U.S. to Intensify Rebalancing in Asia in 2014

Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer
05 February 2014

The United States plans to intensify efforts to “rebalance” its policy in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Daniel Russel, the State Department’s assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

During a February 4 briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center, Russel said the United States is “dedicating more diplomatic resources, more public diplomacy resources, more assistance resources to advance our objectives in the region, and to do so in a way that’s commensurate with the really comprehensive nature of our engagement.”

This rebalancing effort, he said, covers the gamut of economic issues, security, environmental cooperation, strengthening alliances and active partnership with civil society and in democratic development. But special focus, he said, is on economic development, especially via mechanisms such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP ) trade pact. The Asia-Pacific region, he said, “continues to serve as an engine for global growth, with active and intense U.S. involvement.”

Critical to economic development, he said, is unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for international law and peace on the high seas. Russel took note of China’s unilateral attempt to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, which he said threatens to inhibit international lawful use of sea and airspace. “We want an inclusive region,” he said. “We want a prosperous region. We want a region that respects international law. The maintenance of an open maritime regime based on the rule of law has been crucial to the development and the stability and the impressive economic growth of the region, and both here and globally….”

The United States, Russel said, as a global and Pacific power, has a huge stake in ensuring that the Asia-Pacific region remains open. The Obama administration, he said, “has made clear that we urge China not to attempt to implement the ADIZ, and certainly not to replicate it in other sensitive areas, including and particularly in the South China Sea.”

“The United States,” Russel said, “along with many other countries in the region, has expressed concern by the reissuance or the promulgation by China of regulations, the so-called Hainan fishing regulations, that purport to levy requirements on other countries’ operation and behavior.”

Territorial claims, he said, “must be made on the basis of international law, not simply as sweeping declarations of jurisdiction. … No one can justifiably, in compliance with international law, simply assert the right to exercise control over great swaths of a sea.”

“But one thing is certain: None of these problems, none of these tensions can be solved by any one party alone,” Russel said. “There is a role for every country in contributing to a virtuous cycle of improved relations, and frankly, we look to each of our friends and partners in the Asia-Pacific region to make a contribution to good relations and to good neighborliness.”

Russel said U.S. commitment to stability and prosperity in the region is indicated by recent visits to the region by Vice President Biden and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. In 2014, President Obama plans to visit the region, he said, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and many other high-level U.S. officials.

“They will go to Asia because the Asia-Pacific region matters so much to the United States,” Russel said.