Obama’s State of the Union: What he should have said about Asia’s rise but didn’t
In his State of the Union address this week, it’s understandable that U.S. President Barack Obama mostly focused on issues at home while spending relatively less time speaking about foreign affairs.
But in doing so, he missed an opportunity to underscore the value of strengthened trade relations with Asia for U.S. viewers, as well as those watching from overseas. His 70-minute speech said little of America’s relationship with one of the world’s most dynamic regions, and why Asia matters to the U.S.
As the U.S. negotiates a comprehensive trade agreement with 11 Asian-Pacific nations, his comments on that topic were brief. The president called for “both parties [of Congress] to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.” And then, quickly moved on, doing little to convince skeptics of his commitment to the work it will take to move such trade deals forward. The president was equally brief about rising tension in the South China Sea.
What Obama should have reminded viewers is how closely linked the U.S. economy is to Asia, as illustrated in the latest data from the East-West Center.
· 28% of U.S. goods and 27% of U.S. services exports go to Asia;
· 32% of U.S. jobs from exports depend on exports to Asia;
· 64% of international students in the United States are from Asia – contributing $14 billion to the U.S. economy;
· 8.5 million visitors from Asia contribute $41 billion to the US economy; and
· 39 states send at least a quarter of their exports to Asia.
What’s more, America’s security and prosperity are closely and increasingly linked to Asia and the Pacific. The region is home not just to China, but also to two of the world’s largest democracies, India and Indonesia, as well as several nations, including Japan, the Philippines and South Korea, that the United States is bound by treaty to defend.
Critically, Asia also provides growing opportunities for U.S. trade, investment and entrepreneurship — a point that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry underscored at a speech at the East West Center in Honolulu in August 2014.
To be sure, Obama will soon have another chance to communicate this message to both U.S. and Asian audiences, during an upcoming three-day visit to and summit in India. The critical point: we know America matters to Asia, but Asia also matters to America.
Curtis S. Chin is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC., and a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.