Sunday, January 25, 2009

America's evolving role in a changing Asia

Earlier this month, I visited three capitals in Southeast Asia – Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Hanoi – to present the latest in a series of reports on America’s role in Asia, produced each presidential election year by the Asia Foundation.

The report was not easy to summarize. It contains chapters on no fewer than eight countries and sub-regions (Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), plus seven additional chapters on key functional issues (trade, security, alliances, the environment, energy, terrorism, and regional architecture). All the chapters incorporate individual insights on trends in the region, as well as numerous detailed recommendations on policy. The report also reflects a few differences of opinion, both among the Asian participants and between the American and Asian contributors, especially with regard to questions involving regional architecture.

But the main purposes of the project – to identify the key trends in the region, and to make policy recommendations to the incoming U.S. administration – provided a structure for my summary. Within that broad framework, I found that there was a remarkable degree of consensus on six major trends, and on ten broad policy recommendations. That consensus is presented below, although I have also indicated a few places where the contributors had different views, and where I have somewhat contrasting opinions of my own.

Key trends

1. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the bipolar international order that had formed at the end of World War II, there was a commonly held assumption that the world had become unipolar, with the U.S. in the dominant position. More than a decade later, however, it has become increasingly clear that the rise of new global and regional powers has created a multipolar world, not a unipolar one. But within that multipolar world, the longer-term balance among the global and regional powers remains uncertain. It will depend on domestic developments in the key national actors, particularly the relative speed and degree to which they recover from the global financial crisis. While the U.S. may remain the most powerful nation in the world in that future order, it is unlikely to dominate either the Asian balance or the global balance of power.

2. Because it involves the lowering of barriers to transborder flows of people, capital, and goods, globalization is promoting both economic interdependence and the emergence of a wide range of transborder issues. This is changing the international agenda, both in Asia and more globally, adding a wide range of new issues, as well as new economic opportunities. (I believe that globalization is transforming Asia and the world in yet another way: it is making the world multinodal, rather than multipolar. Rather than seeing the major world powers as relatively independent poles competing for position in a geopolitical balance of power, they should now be viewed as multiple nodes in an interdependent economic and financial network. In this new multimodal world, major nations continue to compete, but now as economic centers as well as military powers. They also have major common interests in maintaining the vitality of the global order and in managing transnational issues. The blend of competition and cooperation among the major powers is therefore very different in a multimodal world than it was in a multipolar one.)

3. Asia will remain a highly important region for both the U.S. and the world. It is home to several of the most important rising powers (China, India and, if it can develop a common foreign policy, ASEAN), as well as such established powers as the U.S., Japan, and Russia. It is almost certain to remain one of the world’s most economically dynamic regions. It is the location of the two most important unresolved issues left over from the Cold War: Korea and Taiwan. It is also a region in which every virtually contemporary transnational issue – from terrorism and climate change to transborder crime and communicable disease -- can be found and where effective solutions will need to be developed.

4. There is a widespread perception that America has become somewhat disengaged from this important region, to the extent that some Asians assert that Washington has been treating Asia with “benign neglect.” (I think this may be a bit exaggerated. I prefer to say that the U.S. is paying selective attention to the region, focusing only on the major powers [Japan, China, and India], “hot spots” [North Korea and Taiwan], and issues [the war on terror and non-proliferation] that are of greatest concern to the U.S.)

5. Asia is trying to build regional organizations that will eventually form an economic and security community for the region. The aim is to promote cooperative security, manage economic interdependence, and address the transnational issues that affect the region. But there are different assessments of the accomplishments and effectiveness of the organizations that have been created so far, especially such flagship institutions as ASEAN, ARF, and APEC. Asians (who stress process) are more positive about these organizations than are Americans (who emphasize concrete outcomes). Where Asians see these organizations as moving at “a pace comfortable to all,” Americans complain that they are like a naval convoy that is limited to “the speed of the slowest ship.” Equally important, there are also differences of opinion as to whether these organizations should be pan-Asian (excluding the U.S.) or pan-Pacific (including it).

6. There is a growing sense that global institutions (the UN Security Council, G-8, IMF, IBRD, etc.) do not adequately represent the emerging powers, including those in Asia (particularly China and India and, in the case of the Security Council, Japan).

Policy recommendations for the new administration

1. The U.S. should pay more comprehensive attention to Asia. This means, in particular, more attention to Southeast Asia and to the smaller states of South Asia, which feel particularly neglected. It also means greater attention to the issues of greatest concern to members of the region -- not just to the war on terror, non-proliferation, and sub-regional hot spots, but also to prosperity, financial stability, development, food security, energy security, climate change, public health, and disaster management. (I would add that this may also require increasing the “bandwidth” of the American foreign policy bureaucracy responsible for Asia, so that it can deal effectively with these additional issues.)

2. Preserving U.S. strategic dominance in the region – in other words, trying to make Asia into a unipolar region -- will not be a viable strategy. It is neither desired by most of the region, nor feasible given the rise of regional powers. Instead, the U.S. should look at itself more as an offshore balancer in the near term, and as an architect of effective regional cooperative security organizations over the longer term.

3. Even this somewhat more modest goal will require the U.S. to remain strategically engaged in the region. This means not only maintaining America’s forward military deployments, but also consolidating the U.S. alliances and building stable and cooperative security relationships with the emerging Asian powers.

4. The U.S. should maintain its commitment to free trade. The report recommends renewing the president’s trade promotion authority (“fast track”), resisting protectionism, pushing for the successful completion of the Doha Round, and completing and ratifying the free trade agreements that it is negotiating with the region. (While protectionism is indeed a danger during the current financial crisis, I believe that the oft-stated concerns about American protectionism are usually exaggerated. I would also note that the U.S. is not the only obstacle, and is not even the principal obstacle, to the completion of the Doha Round. Agricultural policy in Europe, and industrial policy in much of the Third World, are equally significant problems. I would also caution that, as the U.S. negotiates free trade agreements with countries in the region, many of its Asian counterparts will resist the demanding and comprehensive form of free trade agreement on which Washington insists. In this regard, the problem will not be American protectionism, but Asian protectionism.)

5. The U.S. should become more supportive of the construction of regional economic and security architecture. However, there was no clear conclusion among the American contributors to the report about which of the growing number of regional organizations hold the greatest promise. In addition, while there was a general consensus that the U.S. should sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN, there was a difference of opinion among the Asian participants as to whether the U.S. should be invited to join the East Asian Summit (also known as ASEAN+6).

6. The U.S. should also support an expanded role for the emerging Asian powers in global institutions. But the contributors differed somewhat as to whether the U.S. should insist that countries like India and China act as “responsible stakeholders,” accepting existing international norms without significant modification, or whether it should expect that those norms would be readjusted to reflect the interests and values of the rising powers.

7. In promoting development in Asia, the U.S. should not just support free trade, better governance, and respect for human rights, but should also provide more traditional forms of economic development assistance. In particular, the report recommends that the U.S. develop a program of investment in Asian physical infrastructure, to supplement initiatives being undertaken by China and Japan.

8. The U.S. should continue to pay attention to human rights and democracy, but should take a more positive approach. It should use more moderate rhetoric against human rights shortcomings, support reforms initiated by local governments and civil societies whenever possible, and be more consistent in its own behavior at home and abroad. Above all, the U.S. should not replace a single-minded focus on terrorism with an equally single-minded focus on human rights.

9. The U.S. should place more emphasis on the development and deployment of its soft power. But this implies more than devising a more effective foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. It also will require the U.S. to rebuild the instruments of public diplomacy (such as cultural and academic exchange) that have been neglected over the last several years.

10. The U.S. should increase its own economic competitiveness. This will be key not only to maximizing trade and investment flows with the region, but also to maintaining a commitment to free trade and to restoring the appeal of the American economic model.

These ten points can, in turn, be boiled down into three even broader recommendations:

1. In most of the areas on which the Bush Administration has focused, American policy in Asia has generally been appropriate. In these areas, the Obama Administration should stay the course, with perhaps some tactical adjustments to promote our evolving relationships with such countries as China, Japan, North Korea, and India. The exception to this generalization lies primarily in Southwest Asia, where the report recommends more dramatic changes in U.S. policies toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.

2. As noted above, however, the Bush Administration’s focus has been limited. The new administration should fill in the gaps that have been left by American selective attention to Asia.

3. The U.S. should work to sustain or rebuild all forms of American power in the region: hard, economic, and soft.

Asian reactions

The report was generally well received in the three capitals I visited, particularly in its suggestion that the U.S. pay more attention to neglected countries and issues. But there was some concern expressed about three aspects of the report: whether the new administration would actually support Asian multilateralism, whether it would accept a somewhat reduced role in the region, and whether it would place undue emphasis on human rights.

With regard to that first issue, some in the region will place considerable weight on whether or not President Obama chooses to attend the summit meeting between ASEAN summit and its dialogue partners that will be held in Thailand later in the year. The Thais are strongly urging that he do so, not only as an expression of a US interest in ASEAN, but also as an implicit endorsement of Thailand’s desire for a greater leadership role in the region, and an acknowledgement of Thailand’s return to political normalcy. And yet, some in Thailand explicitly said that it was “not the time” for the U.S. to join the East Asian Summit, underscoring the fact that the creation or maintenance of pan-Asian (as opposed to pan-Pacific) regional organizations was a real possibility. This underscored the tensions created by the American need to deal both with ASEAN and with regional organizations led by ASEAN – one of the contradictions I had identified in my earlier blog entitled “The Challenge of Engaging Southeast Asia.”

I sensed, moreover, that not everyone in the region was keen to see an unqualified American return to multilateralism. Cambodians seemed to welcome it, since they doubted that their country would otherwise attract sustained high-level attention from the U.S. But some Thais, and particularly some Vietnamese, appeared concerned that an American focus on multilateral approaches toward the region as a whole would mean less U.S. attention to bilateral relations with their own countries. Larger regional powers, with robust ties with the U.S., may fear that they might lose relative influence if Washington chose to deal with the region primarily through ASEAN or through other multilateral mechanisms. This illustrated yet another tension mentioned in my earlier blog: the contradiction between dealing with Southeast Asian nations individually, and dealing with them as members of ASEAN.

As for America’s role in the region, some in Thailand asked whether American would actually accept the fact that the U.S. could no longer dominate the region. Conversely, some in Vietnam raised the opposite concern, cautioning that the U.S. should not redefine its role too modestly, as they believed the term “offshore balancer” implied. In particular, they were worried that the U.S. was not paying attention to the conflicting claims in the South China Sea, and that this lack of concern might lead China at some point to assert its claims unilaterally and by force, producing a fait accompli to which the U.S. might be unwilling or unable to respond.

The report did not contain a chapter on human rights. Interestingly, not a single participant in any of the three meetings in Southeast Asia questioned this omission. Instead, there was some concern expressed that the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State might presage a return to what some regarded as the excessive focus on human rights of the Clinton Administration.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is there a role for ethical principles in Chinese foreign policy?

The following post, on Chinese attitudes toward the role of ethical principles in shaping its foreign policy, appeared recently in the Carnegie Council's on-line journal, Policy Innovations (

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In the fall of last year, the Carnegie Council sent a small delegation to Beijing to identify and discuss the ethical principles that guide China's international conduct. In addition to myself, the delegation included Jonathan Gage, a trustee of the Council and publisher of strategy+business, Booz and Company's business magazine; Joshua Eisenman, fellow for Asia at the American Foreign Policy Council; Devin Stewart, director of the Council's Global Policy Innovations program; and Alex Westlake, managing director of ClearWorld Energy's Beijing office.

The delegation's goal was to identify both the normative differences between China and the United States—differences that might lead Beijing and Washington to adopt different approaches to common international problems—and the similarities in ethical thinking that could promote cooperation and mutual understanding between our two countries.
Although we were invariably received with great courtesy, we found some of our Chinese colleagues to be quite skeptical about our mission. America's promotion of human rights is widely regarded as a way of attacking China's domestic policies or even of undermining China's domestic stability. In the same way, some of our interlocutors expressed their concern that a discussion of international norms was simply another American tactic for criticizing China's international conduct or a strategy aimed at forcing China to comply with U.S. foreign policy preferences.

We had to reassure them that we were open to a serious discussion of China's views, along with those of other non-Western countries, on the ethical basis for international conduct. Our goal was not primarily to press China to adopt the same international norms as the United States, but rather to gain a better understanding of the international norms that China espouses.

A common objection was the tendency to equate ethical considerations with ideological concerns, and then to contrast both of these to more pragmatic ways of thinking about policy choices. We were told on numerous occasions that Chinese are a "pragmatic" people who are uninterested in abstract discussions of ethics. The tacit assumption was that ethical thinking is impractical, and that pragmatism implies indifference to normative considerations. Deng Xiaoping's well known saying that "black cat or white cat, if it catches mice, it's a good cat" was frequently cited in support of this proposition.

We were puzzled by this argument, since we were well aware of China's rich ethical traditions. When we pursued the point, we were told that the Maoist era had significantly discredited ethical discourse in China. Mao's Cultural Revolution was characterized by a highly moralistic approach to politics that, in the end, associated ethical principles (particularly Mao's demand for continuing revolution against privilege and inequality) with an impractical and costly set of policy options (the denigration of expertise, an aversion to material incentives, and the dismantling of bureaucratic institutions). This led many Chinese to conclude that there is a fundamental incompatibility between thinking ethically and acting pragmatically.

When applied to foreign policy, this skeptical attitude toward ethics was reinforced by the realist tradition in international political theory—a theoretical tradition that is very comfortable for many Chinese. Realism holds that a country's foreign policy should be entirely based on an assessment of national interests, and it is inappropriate to impose normative considerations on what should properly be an interest-based behavior. Realism was said to be especially suitable for a developing country like China. Several of our Chinese colleagues described ethical considerations as a "luxury" reserved for rich and powerful countries. They asserted that poorer and weaker nations would have to do whatever was necessary to ensure their survival, whether or not it violated others' definitions of ethical behavior.

Although we heard much skepticism about applying ethical considerations to Chinese foreign policy, a number of Chinese colleagues expressed substantial interest.

In part, this interest reflected their concern about the costs that indifference to ethics was having on China's own society. We arrived in China just as the extent of the tainted milk scandal was becoming clear: Milk had been spiked with melamine as an inexpensive way of enhancing its protein content, but melamine can cause kidney failure in infants and kidney stones in children and older people. Many people realized that this contamination of milk products (and, it was later discovered, meat and other dairy products as well) reflected the dairy companies' unwillingness to allow ethical standards to hamper their quest for profits. We were told that the scandal, along with other similar scandals before it, was creating a growing interest in reconstructing an ethical foundation for Chinese society, drawing not only on China's past ethical traditions, but also on socialist norms and on Western ethical systems.

Although most of that discussion has so far been focused on the need to reintroduce ethical considerations to China's domestic affairs, some of our interlocutors acknowledged its relevance to foreign policy as well. But their interest in this question did not simply reflect the desire that their country adopt ethical standards of conduct for their own sake. There was also a two-pronged instrumental argument: that espousing norms of international behavior could enhance China's soft power, and that the invocation of ethical standards could legitimate its development and use of harder forms of power. As China grows in economic and military strength, simple reassurances of a peaceful rise will become less credible and persuasive than the argument that ethical considerations are shaping its international behavior. And, at the same time, ethical arguments can also be used to delegitimize the actions of one's competitors and rivals.

As the Chinese gradually rediscover the need to introduce ethical considerations into their foreign policy, what will those considerations be? The Chinese Communist Party has generally been attracted to the classic Westphalian norms of international affairs, particularly those norms that enshrine the autonomy of the nation-state against external pressures. In fact, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, first formulated by Beijing in the mid-1950s, provide a concise summary of those norms: national sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, peaceful coexistence, non-intervention in another country's internal affairs, and equality and mutual benefit.

More recently, these norms have come into conflict with what might be called post-Westphalian norms that stress the right (and indeed the obligation) of the international community to infringe on the autonomy of the nation-state to protect or advance other considerations. Westphalian norms also stand in contrast to what the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs describes as the tendency to regard "social system, ideology, or the concept of values" as inevitably determining the relationship between nations.

The Westphalian norm of national sovereignty thus contrasts with the concept of humanitarian intervention or the responsibility to protect; territorial integrity with the more recent norm of self-determination; peaceful coexistence with international efforts to promote human rights in those countries where they are violated; equality with the principle that rogue states should be denied some rights of participation in the international community; and the norm of non-aggression with the use of military action to enforce international norms. Both Westphalian and non-Westphalian norms can easily be justified. Each set reflects a powerful ethical tradition. But they produce very different approaches to today's international problems.

Chinese leaders and policy analysts understand that these post-Westphalian norms make sense in a world in which a wide range of social, economic, and security issues span and erode the national borders that Westphalian principles hold sacrosanct. But they are not entirely comfortable with post-Westphalian ethics. They see post-Westphalian principles—like the principles of universal human rights with which they are associated—as a worrisome challenge to China's security and stability.

As they gradually develop a normative structure to guide their intentional behavior, Chinese leaders will therefore have to find a balance between the traditional Westphalian norms and the newer norms associated with a globalized world. In doing so, they will most likely find common ground with the United States on many issues but will differ on others. Either way, the need for further discussion of international norms between Chinese and Americans will prove to be a fruitful, even essential exercise.

The challenge of engaging Southeast Asia

I'm on a speaking tour of Southeast Asia -- visiting Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam -- to present the Asia Foundation's recommendations on American policy toward Asia, as contained in its recent report, America's Role in Asia, 2008: Asian and American Views. (The report is available on line at the foundation's website, at

I'll write up my presentation, and report on some of the reactions to it, in a few days. Meanwhile, I thought I would post a presentation I gave back in October, on my last visit to Thailand, on the challenges the U.S. faces in trying to engage with Southeast Asia. This is drawn from the Asia Foundation's online blog, In Asia: Weekly Insight and Features from Asia, which can also be found on the foundation's website at

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Now that the U.S. presidential election is over, the incoming Obama administration will begin a reconsideration of American foreign policy. Numerous urgent issues will compete for attention, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and the parlous state of the global economy. But consideration of these urgent matters should not come at the expense of issues that, while perhaps less immediate, are no less important. One of these is the American relationship with Southeast Asia.

There is a widely shared view, both in Southeast Asia and in the Asian policy community in the U.S., that the United States has been paying insufficient attention to the region. In introducing the Southeast Asia section of the Asia Foundation’s recently-released America’s Role in Asia report at a press conference in Washington last month Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies, complained that Washington has been treating Southeast Asia with “benign neglect,” perhaps because the region has presented the U.S. with neither significant challenges nor great opportunities.

I’m not sure that the U.S. has completely neglected Southeast Asia, but I agree that our attention to the region has been highly selective. We focus on some countries more than others, and on some issues more than others. In particular, we pay attention to the region mainly when bigger issues – terrorism, the rise of China, avian flu – make it relevant. Still, from the Southeast Asian perspective, this selective attention is insufficient, especially when the issues we select are not what Southeast Asians want us to emphasize.

However we diagnose the problem – insufficient attention or selective attention – the solution will have to be more than electing a new president who lived in Indonesia as a child, or new members of Congress who may be more internationalist in their outlook or more knowledgeable about Southeast Asia. We also need to understand the structural obstacles that prevent the U.S. from treating Southeast Asia as it would like to be treated. In this regard, the basic problems are that the U.S. has to engage with the region on three different levels simultaneously, and doing so effectively may require more resources than the U.S. presently enjoys.

First, the U.S. must deal with each of the countries of the region bilaterally. Some say this is a matter of preference, in that the U.S. (like any great power) can find it easier to deal with each member of ASEAN individually than collectively, since it can dominate any particular pairing. But it is really a matter of necessity. ASEAN comprises ten very different countries – at different levels of development, with different political systems, and with different interests and perspectives. The U.S. must have separate relations with each Southeast Asian country, just as it has separate relations with each member of the EU.

At the same time, the United States also needs to deal with ASEAN as a regional organization that is seeking to develop a unified position on key regional and global issues, and then exert more influence by acting collectively. But ASEAN’s collective positions are taken largely through consensus, the development which can be a time-consuming process, and whose outcome can be frustrating to the U.S.

In addition, ASEAN seems to be saying that great powers like the United States that want to engage effectively with the organization should sign the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). This poses a clear dilemma for Washington: would signing the TAC force the U.S. to accept the legitimacy of the government of Myanmar as a member of ASEAN? Would acceptance of the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, which is included in the TAC, prevent the imposition of sanctions against Myanmar for its violations of basic human rights? Moreover, what would the U.S. get in return? How would American relations with ASEAN benefit from this gesture? Would the U.S., for example, be invited to join the East Asian Summit, which ASEAN has recently organized? And is this something that Washington would really want to do?

The East Asian Summit brings us to the third level at which the U.S. must engage with ASEAN: the super-regional organizations that ASEAN leads, none of which is as effective as the United States would like. The general problem is that the Southeast Asian view of these organizations appears to be more process-oriented than results-oriented. Southeast Asians value these organizations as ways of building personal relationships among leaders and officials, establishing what some call “habits of dialogue,” and gradually producing a sense of regional community. Americans, by comparison, are more practical and less patient in their outlook: they ask what the organization has produced, and whether it’s worth the time and effort that participation requires.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is that most of the ASEAN-led organizations do not appear to be achieving the objectives that the U.S. would like to promote. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) seems to be far from creating a trans-Pacific free trade area of the sort the Bush Administration has endorsed, or even achieving the earlier goal of “freer trade” in the region. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) has neither taken up the tasks of preventive diplomacy or crisis management, nor done much to promote security cooperation on key transnational issues. Southeast Asian nations want America to pay more attention to these organizations, but the U.S. finds participation to be frustratingly non-productive. The East Asian Summit is too new to be expected to have achieved many results, but at this point even its agenda remains uncertain.

Thus, engaging with Southeast Asia is a demanding and sometimes frustrating job. And yet, the United States suffers from a shortage of both organizational resources and policy capabilities.

Take its foreign policy bureaucracy, for example. Much has been made of the fact that the U.S. government has recently created the position of an ambassador for ASEAN – the first major power to do so. But, in fact, no additional personnel line has been created inside the State Department; the title has simply been given to the Deputy Assistant Secretary who is already responsible for Southeast Asia. Above this position, no one in the State Department has any full-time responsibility for the region. The same situation is basically repeated in the other key agencies responsible for foreign affairs, like the National Security Council, Department of Defense, and USTR. Nowhere in the US government is Southeast Asia the full-time responsibility of any official above the rank of deputy assistant secretary. And those higher-level officials are preoccupied with issues that are regarded as more urgent (like North Korea) or more important (like Japan and China).

As a result, the US government suffers from a lack of bandwidth in dealing with Southeast Asia. But organizational bandwidth is not the foreign policy resource in short supply in the United States these days. The US military – particularly the army and marines – is overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The financial crisis, and the economic recession is will almost certainly produce, will place significant constraints on America’s national defense and foreign affairs budgets. The U.S. will be a less abundant source of capital for Southeast Asia, and a less vital market for the region’s exports – although a global economic slowdown might mean that America’s economic role in the region will decline only in absolute, but not relative, terms. If the recession leads to greater protectionism in the US – an outcome that is not certain, but also cannot be ruled out – trade in both directions could decline still further.

Although the election of Barack Obama may help restore U.S. prestige in the eyes of many Asians, it will take some time to reverse the overall decline in America’s soft power. While the election of our first black president has underscored the vitality of America’s political institutions, another key element of our domestic story –a prosperous free economy overseen by effective governmental regulation – has been significantly undermined by the financial crisis. And our international story – as a generous supporter of Third World development, a credible guarantor of international security, and a promoter of free trade – may also be contradicted by the consequences of the recession.

In short, Southeast Asia is understandably and appropriately asking for greater attention from the United States. It is asking that American policy not define Southeast Asian countries simply as a counterweight against China (not a role that it wants to highlight), or as partners in the global war on terror (not an issue that it wishes to be the central feature of U.S. policy), or as candidates for free trade agreements with the United States (a status not all can achieve). Pointing to its importance strategically and economically, Southeast Asia wants the U.S. to pay attention to a wider range of countries and issues.

But engaging with Southeast Asia is not easy, since the U.S. will have to do so on three different levels – bilateral, regional, and supra regional – simultaneously. It will also strain America’s governmental attention span, when other more urgent issues demand attention from top foreign policy officials. And calls for greater engagement will come up against the reality that, for at least in the near term, the U.S. will be overstretched militarily, constrained financially, and enjoying less soft power than might once have been the case.

The challenge for the U.S. is to conduct a smarter foreign policy, doing more with less.