Lecture Examines U.S. Foreign Policy Shift to Asia

December 12, 2013

Georgetown University professor Dr. Balbina Hwang discussed the shift in U.S. foreign relations from the Middle East to Asia during her recent lecture at Bradley.

Hwang has served as a senior special advisor for the State Department, senior policy analyst of the Heritage Foundation, and professor at National Defense University. She now teaches Asian politics and political economy at Georgetown University.

In 2011 President Barack Obama announced the United States would shift its focus toward the Asian Pacific region. Hwang explained this shift is such a vague concept that Asian and American politicians turned to her for explanation. She stated the U.S. is working to rebalance its relationship with a rising Asia after withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq. She argues that Asian countries like China and Japan have steadily risen and are seen by many as a challenge to U.S. hegemony.  Hwang also notes that Asia is home to half of the world’s population, 56 percent of global output, and five of the world’s top militaries—four of these militaries have nuclear capabilities and three of the five deadliest American wars were fought in Asia.

Many Asian countries embrace President Obama as the first Asian-Pacific president because of his Indonesian background. However, when President Obama twice cancelled a 2010 trip to Indonesia it left his credibility damaged and caused many to question his leadership in Asia.

Three years later and Hwang said this pivot to Asia has already encountered “unexpected challenges.” The U.S. planned to expand militarily in Asia but Pentagon budget cuts made it almost impossible. This pivot to Asia sent a message to US allies like Israel and Turkey that the U.S. had abandoned the Middle East—an unexpected consequence. Poor communication by the United States left China “paranoid” and convinced the U.S. was trying to contain and prevent its own military rise. China began to assert its own military power through maritime disputes with the Philippines and Japan.

The U.S. began emphasizing economic and diplomatic alignment over military expansion by focusing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement with 12 Asian countries still being negotiated. The Obama administration hopes it will be approved by the end of the year, though Hwang is doubtful. Different work standards between the several countries and a divided U.S. Congress may prove difficult.

“The U.S pivot to Asia has done little to implement anything in a tangible way,” she said. “The U.S. must produce real transformative effects. Right now there’s no clear vision or plan.”

International Studies professor Dr. Jeannie Bukowski plans on incorporating Hwang’s lessons into her courses.

“She’s very much a teacher. It was a very good issue to discuss because it’s not an issue a lot of people think about,” Bukowski said.

Freshman international studies and Economics major Joshua Hatler said he enjoyed Hwang’s focus on the TPP and senior Economics major Juan Cuadrado appreciated how objective Hwang was when presenting her information.

“I was very impressed. I speak at a lot of universities and Bradley University is very professional. There were no empty seats,” Hwang said. “The fact that your university brought someone to speak about this is really impressive.”

The event was sponsored by the Institute of International Studies, the department of political science, Cullom-Davis library, IAO, AAA, SABRC and ICAC.