Gary Cameron / REUTERS U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House, September 2015.

Making Good on the Rebalance to Asia

How to Move Beyond the Status Quo with China

Over the past few decades, as China’s economic and military power has increased, the world has faced the possibility that power in the Asia-Pacific will shift decisively away from the United States. Since his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama has acknowledged the region’s importance to the United States’ global position, and since 2011, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the United States’ “pivot” to Asia, it has been enshrined as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. “In the Asia-Pacific in the twenty-first century,” as Obama put it in a speech to the Australian parliament in 2011, “the United States of America is all in.” 

As Obama’s presidency approaches its close, it is time to take measure of what has come to be known as the “rebalance” to Asia. On the one hand, the United States has successfully redirected official attention to important, overlooked issues in a region that is both potentially unstable and crucial to the world economy. Washington has strengthened its relationships with regional allies and partners; expanded the United States’ engagement with regional institutions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and developed a broader and deeper relationship with China. This increased attention, however, has not been accompanied by a new, forward-looking U.S. strategy for the Asia-Pacific. Instead, the United States has sought to maintain elements of a status quo that has already passed into history. During Obama’s last year in office and as the next administration takes shape, the U.S. government needs to put the resources of the rebalance to work toward policies that meet the challenge of the changes already under way in East Asia.

MEASURING UP

The United States’ attention to the Asia-Pacific has dramatically increased over the course of Obama’s presidency, not least with regard to China. Over the past seven years, Beijing and Washington have woven a thick web of bureaucratic contacts around the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the high-level bilateral forum

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