Reviewing U.S. Statements on the Rebalance to Asia

By Zack Cooper —

President Obama speaking to members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in Cambodia during November 2012.

President Obama speaking to members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in Cambodia during November 2012. Source: The White House’s flickr photostream, U.S. Government Work.

The U.S. rebalance to Asia has been one of the Obama administration’s top foreign policy priorities. In implementing the rebalance, the administration should be commended for its efforts to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and to enhance the U.S. military’s regional presence and capabilities. In addition, the administration has demonstrated its commitment with frequent senior leader trips to the region and a good record of attendance at major Asian summits. President Obama has another opportunity to reinforce the rebalance this week when he visits China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, Myanmar for the East Asia Summit (EAS), and Australia for the G-20 summit.

When regional experts parse the president’s statements this week, including his speech in Australia, they will be looking for signs that the administration intends to fully implement and resource the rebalance. As Michael Green and I argue in The Washington Quarterly, it will be critical that the administration show progress in the TPP negotiations (despite the lack of Trade Promotion Authority) and demonstrate that it is willing to commit the resources necessary to strengthen the U.S. military’s regional presence.

With these objectives in mind, it is an opportune time to review some of the administration’s previous statements on the rebalance. The excerpts that follow form the core of the administration’s public statements on its objectives in Asia. Regional experts will be looking for consistency in any new statements and will be analyzing any differences in detail (key elements in the statements below are in bold to facilitate comparison).

President Obama

Speaking to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011

“I’d like to address the larger purpose of my visit to this region — our efforts to advance security, prosperity and human dignity across the Asia Pacific… This is the future we seek in the Asia Pacific — security, prosperity and dignity for all.  That’s what we stand for.  That’s who we are.  That’s the future we will pursue, in partnership with allies and friends, and with every element of American power.  So let there be no doubt:  In the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in… This is the work we will carry on together, for the security and prosperity and dignity of all people.”


Secretary of State Clinton

Foreign Policy article on America’s Pacific Center in October 2011

“…our work will proceed along six key lines of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.”


National Security Advisor Donilon

Speaking to the Asia Society on March 11, 2013

“As the President explained in Canberra, the overarching objective of the United States in the region is to sustain a stable security environment and a regional order rooted in economic openness, peaceful resolution of disputes, and respect for universal rights and freedoms. To pursue this vision, the United States is implementing a comprehensive, multidimensional strategy: strengthening alliances; deepening partnerships with emerging powers; building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China; empowering regional institutions; and helping to build a regional economic architecture that can sustain shared prosperity.”


White House

Factsheet on the Rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific Region on April 12, 2013

“Rebalancing Toward the Asia-Pacific Region… The Budget aligns resources and activities with the President’s Asia-Pacific rebalance objectives: shaping regional institutions and architecture, advancing economic integration across the region, strengthening and modernizing U.S. alliances, forging deeper partnerships with emerging powers, pursuing a stable and constructive relationship with China, and promoting universal and democratic values.”


National Security Advisor Rice

Speaking at Georgetown University on November 20, 2013

“Ultimately, America’s purpose is to establish a more stable security environment in Asia, an open and transparent economic environment, and a liberal political environment that respects the universal rights and freedoms of all.  Achieving that future will necessarily be the sustained work of successive administrations.  In the near term, President Obama will continue to lay the critical foundations for lasting progress in four key areas—enhancing security, expanding prosperity, fostering democratic values, and advancing human dignity.”


Department of State

Factsheet on the East Asia-Pacific Rebalance on December 16, 2013

“U.S. Objectives: Modernize and strengthen U.S. alliances; Develop and strengthen ties with emerging partners; Support effective regional institutions that strive to solve problems based on internationally-recognized rules and norms; Increase trade and investment and expand broad-based economic growth; Ensure our military presence in the region effectively supports the full range of our engagement; Promote democratic development, good governance, and human rights; Expand people-to-people ties.”

Secretary of State Kerry

Speaking at SAIS on November 4, 2014

“Back in August, when I was returning from a trip to Burma and Australia, I delivered a speech at the East-West Center in Honolulu… In that speech, I outlined four specific opportunities that define the rebalance, goals if you will. First, the opportunity to create sustainable economic growth, which includes finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership…. Second, powering a clean energy revolution that will help us address climate change while simultaneously jumpstarting economies around the world. Third, reducing tensions and promoting regional cooperation by strengthening the institutions and reinforcing the norms that contribute to a rules-based, stable region. And fourth, empowering people throughout the Asia Pacific to live with dignity, security, and opportunity.”


Mr. Zack Cooper is a Fellow with the Japan Chair at CSIS.

Zack Cooper

Zack Cooper

Dr. Zack Cooper was Senior Fellow for Asian Security at CSIS.


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