The real problem is not U.S. weakness, but a slow crisis of legitimacy that diminishes the perceived value of both U.S. leadership and U.S.-backed institutions . The erosion of regional order in Asia threatens both the future stability of the region and global governance. Both China and the U nited S tates attach great value to regional stability, but they are on different paths. The trend toward fragmentation and rival regionalisms calls for overcoming organizational “stovepipes” and launching serious strategic thinking and action on the part of the president and his White House aides, leading policymakers in executive branch departments and agencies, and congressional leaders. Unfortunately, top foreign policymakers in Washington are currently hobbled by budgetary constraints and congressional roadblocks and distracted by crises in the Middle East, Ukraine, and West Africa (Ebola). Except for China, Asia is on hold. In addition, domestic political action during much of 2015 and 2016 will be consumed by the November 2016 presidential election. Asian friends of the United States know that these swings in the United States’ reputation and leadership come and go. (Recall, for example, the hand-wringing accompanying Japan’s economic rise in the 1980s.) They are right, but steps should be taken now to stem the emerging fragmentation of regional and global order and put U.S. influence on sounder footing . The Obama administration has made some important moves, and President Obama’s personal interest in Southeast Asia and willingness to travel there have helped re-establish the United States as an active and constructive player. But that is not enough. Stalled trade legislation, sluggish growth in most Western economies, China’s mixed behavior in the region, U.S. political dysfunction, and the difficulty of winding down U.S. military engagement in the Middle East call for U.S. action on several fronts. Revive and Reform Global Institutions While Making Way for New Ones There are legitimate reasons why rival regionalisms have emerged. It is both ridiculous and shameful that developing countries remain underrepresented in existing regional and global institutions such as the IMF and the ADB. The major powers governing such institutions should adopt institutional arrangements that rectify this imbalance and adopt voting reforms without conditions. The White House should make the case for reforming both the IMF and the ADB along these lines in broad strategic terms. The resurgence of China’s political and economic influence in Asia is a fact of life. The U nited S tates should not automatically oppose China’s effort to create new organizations, particularly the AIIB . Nor should it try to persuade like-minded allies and partners to stay on the sidelines.
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- Winter '16
- Jeff Hannan
- International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, Infrastructure Investment Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank