Asia-Pacific pivot: 2012 race could alter diplomacy

  • Article by: JOHN RASH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2012 - 6:23 PM

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping

Photo: Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who's likely to become the country's next leader, engaged in Beltway and Corn Belt diplomacy last week with a visit to Iowa along with the requisite White House and Capitol Hill stops.

China's leadership succession comes amid our own 2012 race, and election rhetoric may have long-lasting impact on U.S.-China relations, as well as the Obama administration's recently announced strategic pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region, said Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Paal, who was a National Security Council staffer during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, also served at the State Department and the CIA.

"Over the last decade, post-9/11, the U.S. got heavily involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though East Asia is where trade and investment is going, and where America's long-term interests need to be tended. ... For the first time since the 1980s, since George Schultz was secretary of state, we have explicitly laid out a combined diplomatic, economic and security strategy for East Asia," he said.

The game-changer is China, which Paal called a "growing imponderable." But it's not just the U.S.-China relationship that's evolving. Indonesia (the subject of this month's Minnesota International Center's "Great Decisions" dialogue) is becoming more important.

Paal recalled that the swift U.S. response to the 2004 tsunami, coupled with Indonesians ending the insurgency in the Aceh province, helped recalibrate relationships.

The current pivot might have happened sooner, he believes, but President Obama made a political calculation to take a hard line on Afghanistan during the 2008 race. Paal has similar concerns about 2012 campaign rhetoric.

"Romney talks about attacking Iran. If so, you can't rebalance," he said, but added, "The skepticism I have about the durability of the rebalancing is not based on a Republican changing it, it's on Obama sticking with it."


John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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