Asia in the State of the Union: Diligent competitors, trade partners

This post is based on the advance speech distributed by the White House and published on

Over all, tonight’s state of the union speech appears to be light on foreign affairs. Here is a summary of the mentions of Asia. Overall, my quick read is that Asia is set up as a land of diligent, hard-working people who value infrastructure, education, and economic development; a land that the United States needs to emulate.

China comes in early in the speech, during a passage laying out the need for the United States to plan its economy for the future.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

It comes up again when the president takes up infrastructure.

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information – from high-speed rail to high-speed internet.

Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

And once more during the increasing exports section.

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 – because the more we export, the more jobs we create at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor; Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.

Notice that China is not singled out. It is either paired with other important economies, or with India.

Likewise, India is mentioned three times, twice with China. First “China and India.” Then “India and China.” Then in the context of one of the two mentions of “Asia.”

This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

The other Asia mention is in the context of trade again.

Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers, and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia, and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.

South Korea comes up in the context of the Korean War trade agreement with Korea, standing with the South against the North, and in plugging education.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.





6 responses to “Asia in the State of the Union: Diligent competitors, trade partners”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graham Webster, Graham Webster. Graham Webster said: My summary of Asia mentions in the #SOTU: diligent competitors, trade partners. […]

  2.  Avatar

    There were two other sections that made me think Asia.

    The first was the comparison of our messy, deliberative system with decisions made by a centralized bureaucracy. I think that’s at least in conversation with the idea that China may outpace the U.S. because we do not have effective governance.

    The second was this comment on education: “our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Perhaps intended as a contrast to more technocratic Asian education.

    1. Graham Webster Avatar

      I think there are so many differences between the United States and China, and there are so few “dyads” of democratic vs. not for important economic countries, that there’s no way to evaluate the effect of centralized decision making.

      On education, it’s an interesting point. But remembering the type of discourse we got in high school social studies classes, I wonder how much the “what do you think” section really gives. I generally stayed silent; some others gave canned responses expanding on the reading most of us didn’t do; and others made jokes about what had been said. Are we relying on a joking economy? Those were indeed the creative kids…

      I’m really bothered by the us–them dynamic being set up here. Who are “we” going to beat? If I were to start a company, is there any way I could do it without non-U.S. citizens?

      1.  Avatar

        Democratic vs. not: I’m skeptical enough of democracy to agree with you, I suppose.

        Education: The specific example is not so important as the principle — in the United States, most people still believe some version of the idea that the purpose of education is to make better citizens. That’s a much tougher and much more open-ended task than skills training.

        Us-them: I think there are certain parameters you have to accept when you’re listening to a speech by the head of a nation-state. Given that he really HAS to focus on the meaning of success stories like Google and Facebook to our national identity, I think the ways the rest of the world are portrayed in the speech are pretty constructive… source of eager and intelligent immigrants, diligant partners and competitors (as you say).

        But I have to wonder — WITHIN those successful companies he’s talking about, do people hear a speech like that and ask, “What does my success have to do with this guy or his nation-state?” I think there are plenty of good answers, but the point is that (as you imply) any successful new company is going to be so international now that the question needs to be asked.

  3. […] measured by the crude “word count” metric, China is mentioned five times, just over last year. Like last year, Japan escapes mention entirely, except as part of the phrase “oldest […]

  4. […] ultimately, compared with 2011 and 2012, this year has very little of substance on Asia. For the last two years, I have tracked […]

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