China is back. Nearly two centuries after it lost its traditional place at the center of Asian affairs, Beijing has begun giving shape and substance to its renewed leadership on the regional stage.
This was on full display at the recently concluded meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, a grouping of 21 economies from both sides of the Pacific. As this year’s host, Beijing not only rolled out the red carpet for leaders from the rest of the region, it also announced a series of major initiatives designed to place China at the center of Asia’s economic future.
Chinese President Xi Jinping articulated his vision for an “Asia-Pacific dream” of shared development and prosperity, notable less for its inflated rhetoric than the concrete proposals and resources China is putting forward to realize it. Backed by promises of nearly $100 billion in overseas loans and investments, Beijing used this year’s APEC meeting to establish a new multilateral infrastructure lending bank, launch a “Silk Road Fund” to connect China with its westward neighbors, and advance progress toward a region-wide Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). In doing so, Xi apprised his visitors that, “China has the capability and the will to provide more public goods to the Asia-Pacific and the whole world.”
China’s renewed regional activism is coming more rapidly than anyone expected. Having gone decades without seeing another power quite so capable and confident, Washington will have to adjust accordingly, following four principles.
First, economics is king in Asia and will have to feature front and center in U.S. policy in the years to come. Although the region’s military competitions and territorial disputes are all too real, the fact remains that leadership and influence will flow from the wallet, not the gun. For that reason, the Obama administration is right to be striving hard to conclude negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement among 12 countries that would cement high standards in regional trade. To do
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