The ICAS Lectures


US Foreign Policy in Asia and the Pacific

Steve Chabot

ICAS Winter Symposium

February 15, 2013 Friday 12:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Rayburn Office Building Room B318
United States House of Repreesentatives Capitol Hill, Washington, DC 20515

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Steve Chabot

US Foreign Policy in Asia and the Pacific

Steve Chabot
Chairman, Subcommitte on Asia and the Pacific
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
United States House of Representatives

Thank you, Mr. Kim, for the kind introduction, and thank you to the Institute for Corean-American Studies for inviting me to join this event today. It is a pleasure to be here and to have the opportunity to speak with you all this afternoon.

I have the honor of serving as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and it is an assignment that will no doubt prove to be both fascinating and challenging. Last Congress, I served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, beginning my first month on the job simultaneously with the start of the "Arab Spring." No more than a coincidence I assure you, it was indeed a tumultuous period, but one that turned out to be an incredible experience filled with both great opportunities and incredible tragedies. I expect as Chairman of the Asia Subcommittee that I will face a number of critical issues over the next two years. The first instance came this week when North Korea tested a nuclear bomb, rather an ominous sign two days after the lunar New Year and start of the Year of the Snake, or perhaps just Pyongyang's way of saluting President Obama, the morning before his State of the Union Address. Looking ahead, the Asia-Pacific region is of critical strategic importance to the United States. It stretches as far north as Mongolia and south to New Zealand, from Pakistan in the west to the Pacific Island nations in the east. At least in the eyes of the Subcommittee, that is the geographical jurisdiction that we must oversee. The region includes countries such as India, the world's largest democracy; Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation; and China, the world's most populous country. With a collective economy that accounts for more than 50 percent of world trade, it is the scene of some of the Unites States' most important economic, commercial, geopolitical, and security interests. It is a truly diverse region that spans nearly half the Earth's surface and contains more than half the world's population. Now more than ever, America's future is inextricably linked to Asia's future, and it is crucial that the United States focus on this part of the world.

In the year marking the 60-year anniversary of the end of the Korean War, the U.S.-South Korean alliance is now more important than ever before. Here in the U.S., we are fortunate that 1.5 million Americans of Korean decent call this nation "home." They (and many of you in the audience) are an integral part of the fabric of American society. Many Korean-Americans are small business owners, and their pursuit of the American Dream contributes greatly to the U.S. economy. The passage of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, America's largest trade agreement in Asia, was a sign that the relationship has grown over time beyond a security alliance to a friendship of incredible depth. South Korea shares with the U.S. the values of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights, which makes the relationship even more vital, especially in a region surrounded by nations that threaten the use of nuclear weapons, disregard basic freedoms and violate the unalienable rights of man.

South Korea is currently in the middle of a political transition, with the departure of President Lee and incoming, President-elect Park. This naturally presents a variety of challenges and uncertainties; however, I am confident that the U.S. relationship with South Korea will remain strong and that we will stand by its side in the face of neighboring threats. If anyone in the audience has taken the time to watch the video that came out of North Korea last week, you witnessed firsthand the tirade of soaring patriotic rhetoric of a country dreaming of the day it can launch a rocket and blow up Manhattan. The song playing in the background was a rendition of Michael Jackson's "We Are the World." This disturbing video is no doubt something we should be concerned about. North Korea's successful test of a ballistic missile in December, and its test of another nuclear bomb earlier this week, are signs that North Korea is continuing its quest towards the ability to threaten the United States and South Korea with a nuclear warhead. It is also further evidence that President Obama's policies of ineffective sanctions and empty threats towards North Korea have failed. The Administration needs to take a different strategy that stops offering carrot-and-stick deals-deals that North Korea has shown it will not accept. Pyongyang is now essentially a nuclear power-a state that we have been vehemently trying to prevent. I am seriously concerned, and I hope that Secretary of State John Kerry and the future Secretary of Defense will implement a new strategy rather than falling upon old failed policies. The United States must remain vigilant against one of the most repressive and hostile regimes on the planet. North Korea's provocative actions threaten the region's collective security, and we cannot tolerate this continued behavior.

In 2011, President Lee visited the United States and addressed Congress stating, quote "America is our neighbor and our friend" end quote. In a partnership that has endured for over 60 years, those words ring true now more than ever. The U.S.-Korea alliance will be a priority during my Chairmanship and I hope our friendship will endure and remain steadfast in the face of rising threats.

Off the Korean Peninsula, we are also carefully watching the political transitions in China and Japan. How their respective leaders approach U.S. bilateral relations, and how they deal with each other, will have a major impact on both economic and security issues in the region. Specifically, I hope that these nations' interactions do not give way to nationalist sentiments that rile geopolitical tensions more than we have already seen. China's continuing aggressive behavior, and assertions over its questionable claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, are worrisome. Its expanding military and economic influence throughout the region, including the Indian Ocean and Pacific waterways, is threatening the sovereignty of a number of nations, and the security of the sea lines of communication that the world depends on for its economic well-being.

One such nation feeling the pressure of a growing Chinese presence, is the Philippines-one of the United States' five treaty allies in Asia. The Philippines is playing a crucial role in U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, and in the Pentagon's efforts to strategically rebalance its force structure in the Asia-Pacific region. On this issue, I would note that the U.S. never left the Asia-Pacific region, as the Administration regularly overlooked to mention during its announcement of a "pivot" to Asia. U.S. military troops have maintained a presence in the Pacific for decades, and the new marine base in Australia, relocation of forces in Japan to Guam, docking of littoral combat ships in Singapore, and efforts to strengthen the defense relationships with South Korea and the Philippines, are all simply part of the strategy to rebalance the positioning of U.S. forces against a growing Chinese threat.

A region that plays an integral part of this strategy, but one in which we tend to approach separately, is South Asia. India dominates this region with its vibrant economy, cultural influence, pluralistic society, and growing military power. In many ways, U.S. and Indian interests converge-but not all. India's economy is the anchor of a network of economic and transit connections that will facilitate regional commerce; however, it continues to struggle with poverty, corruption, health and education deficiencies. And its resistant to taking a larger role in the Asia-Pacific commensurate with its growing power and influence, is causing much frustration in a relationship that has great potential. Nevertheless, India plays a critical role in creating a stable Afghanistan, and a stable region. We must make concrete efforts to enhance the security and economic relationship with India, because without a strong U.S.-India partnership, the promotion of core mutual national interests, will be threatened.

Turning to India's neighbor, let us not forget Pakistan. While I hope Pakistan can play a central role in U.S. efforts to combat Islamic militancy, and in shaping the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, I am continually concerned about the threat by Pakistan-based extremist groups, to both the United States, and to Pakistan's own civilian government. The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is filled with uncertainty, and mutual distrust, after a series of high-profile incidents, but it is in U.S. interests to help foster a more stable, democratic, and prosperous country. As a lead recipient of U.S. foreign aid, Pakistan is a nation that we will continue to monitor closely.

While the last two years have been lukewarm, at best, for U.S.-Pakistan relations, if we look towards the eastern border of India, we have seen a country open its borders to the world in a remarkable display of democratic reforms. Burma is a country that no one here in Washington thought would progress at the pace we have seen, and we all remain hopeful the pace will continue. Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest, and her long-deserved election to the parliament, were days many will never forget. As we look at the accomplishments that country has made, we also must recognize that Burma has a long way to go. Over the past few months we have seen escalating violence in the ethnic states, which raises concerns about the role of the military in the civilian government. The country also faces great economic challenges, and must find a way to manage the desires of countries around the world that want to participate in the extraction of its rich resources. And if this is not done right, then the military establishment and corrupt officials stand to reap an enormous profit from the revenue that the abundance of natural resources promise to generate. The real challenges in Burma will take place between now and the next round of elections in 2015, when we will witness whether Thein Sein really wants democracy to flourish, and chart Burma's future.

The Asia-Pacific region will present many opportunities and challenges alike for the United States. Our role in this region is necessary because as a Pacific nation ourselves, the successful development of our friends and neighbors will help boost our own economy and contribute to prosperity here at home. Our continued presence will help ensure that freedom of navigation is maintained, international laws and norms are respected, disputes are settled peacefully, and emerging powers develop in an environment of trust and reciprocity.

I am greatly looking forward to serving as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. We are at a critical juncture today, and must seize upon the successes already made, by building upon our long-standing partnerships, cementing new ones, and securing our strategic interests in a region that welcomes U.S. support.

Thank you again for inviting me here today.

This page last updated February 19, 2013 jdb