Tag Archives: Asia

Asia in the State of the Union: Bringing jobs home and—psst!—cybersecurity

UPDATED at bottom with further comments

The State of the Union speech this year was not suited for heavy lifting in foreign policy, and it had almost nothing to say about policy in the Asia-Pacific. According to the prepared speech, President Obama mentioned a push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, responded to North Korea’s recent nuclear test, and raised cybersecurity concerns that are closely tied to China.

But ultimately, compared with 2011 and 2012, this year has very little of substance on Asia. For the last two years, I have tracked mentions of Northeast Asian countries (and thrown in Iran and Mexico for fun). 2013sotu

Indicating a domestic economic focus, one of two China mentions, and the only mentions of each Japan and Mexico, come in a passage about “bringing jobs back”

Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

The other mention of China sets the country as a competitor the United States must keep up with on clean energy:

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

So China is raised only as a signal of “countries like China.” Nonetheless, India is never mentioned; Russia only once (in a section on nuclear disarmament).

Perhaps the only meaty foreign policy passage on Asia doesn’t mention it. Here’s President Obama on cybersecurity—an issue focused significantly on perceived threats from China, as well as Russia and others.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks. [a drop in in the real speech: “This is something we should be able to get done on a bipartisan basis.” -gw]

By avoiding a direct mention of China, Obama might have avoided an angry pronouncement from the Foreign Ministry here. If he had brought up China on cybersecurity, he would have had to bring up other aspects of the U.S.–China relationship. This would have been great, but there is only so much space in the speech.

Instead, in addition to the announcement that troops are coming out of Afghanistan this year, Obama’s foreign policy message is an enunciation of the U.S. role in the world as a “beacon” (see Burma) and as a force for peace (see Syria and the Mideast region).

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”

That’s all for now. All quotes based on the prepared speech.


I’ve read the speech again. Here are a few things I didn’t see in the first pass.

Comparison with the past

President Obama’s State of the Union speeches have repeatedly mentioned Asian countries in the context of competition in economic and educational terms. In 2011, South Korea came up repeatedly for its educational strengths. China was cited for building “faster trains and newer airports” and for becoming “home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s largest computer.”

In 2012, it was “places like China” where labor is getting more expensive, the administration’s move to bring more “trade cases against China” (suggesting China as a cheat), and “unfair trading practices in countries like China” to be investigated by a new Trade Enforcement Unit.

This year, China and Asia keep their place amidst the domestic and economic issues in the speech, but the cries of “unfair” have been left behind except as implied in the cybersecurity section. Some have argued that China is to a great extent now a domestic issue in U.S. politics. This rings true with in this year’s speech, where “countries like China” are the competitors, the unseen other, against which the United States must compare itself. China is used as looming symbol of prosperity and development, and that the United States might get left behind. It is not a message about U.S.–China relations, nor about reality in China.

Alliances in Asia always get a hat tip

2011: “We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India.”

2012: “Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever.”

2013: “In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia.”


“The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”

Missile defense against North Korea: A potential irritant for China

In the North Korea passage directly above, Obama throws in an intention to “strengthen our own missile defense.” As it happens, strengthening defenses against North Korea also puts more resources in China’s neighborhood. Some commentators in China cry foul and claim North Korea is only an excuse, and the United States is trying to upset the nuclear balance. Some U.S. analysts guess that missile defense will trouble bilateral ties with China.

In my discussions with Chinese experts, however, it seems clear that the resources directed at North Korea are seen as insufficient to nullify China’s nuclear deterrent. So while some might flag this issue as a China policy point, I view it as directed at North Korea alone.

Missed opportunity: China–U.S. cooperation on North Korea

Obama had the chance to call out U.S.–China cooperation on North Korea. It’s a sensitive area, and some in China are nervous that a collapse of the DPRK would lead to U.S. troops on the Yalu River, but in reality, the United States and China have been well aligned on this incident. Both countries deeply desire a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Both have overriding interests in stability and predictability. And it’s possible to talk about the two reaching common cause in confronting the DPRK.

At a time when so many regional issues pit the United States or its allies against the Chinese government, why not drop in “China” when talking about confronting an issue of common concern? And while we’re at it, no love for the United Nations?

Asia and the world in the State of the Union

With a domestic economic focus expected to anchor the evening, the prepared text of U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech (according to WSJ) is similar to last year’s in its emphasis on Asia.

At least 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 alliances in Europe and Asia.” (“Japan passing” may still be in style.) [UPDATE: “Tokyo” snuck in there once in a laundry list of places, but I’ll still keep the rating at zero.]

India, mentioned once last year, gets no love. Asia is mentioned twice (once as “Asian”).

Korea, mentioned seven times in 2011, comes up once (trade agreement).

Europe gets one mention (with Japan Asia), versus two last year.

More to come.

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 CNN.com.

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.