The U.S. in Asia: A Liberal-International Perspective

There are three components that underlie the Liberal-International paradigm of International Relations. The first can be ascribed as Commercial Liberalism, or the view that economic interdependence, especially free trade, reduces the prospects of war by increasing the costs on all involved nations. This has been a fundamental aspect of American engagement with China. The policy of normalizing relations with China was accompanied by a high-volume partnership in trade and business. Part of the thinking went that if you gave China, an ancient power likely to inevitably rebound from its scarred past, a stake in the international order by involving them in international and multilateral institutions that engage state-building and economic development, they would acquiesce to the liberal order. The U.S. has become in the past years more wary of this interdependence with China, but it remains our policy in the rest of Asia. Negotiations are underway for a free trade agreement with 11 states, excluding China. This is to continue to develop multilateral interdependence between Asian nations and especially with the U.S.

The second component of this perspective is Liberal-Republicanism. It’s a paradigm based on Democratic Peace Theory, the notion that democratic nations are less likely to go to war with one another. The United States absolutely includes Democracy, Human Rights, and access to information as part of its Asia-Pacific platform. However, this plank of the paradigm is often deemphasized in relation to more pressing economic and strategic interests. It does seem clear that our relations with Asia-Pacific Democracies are strongest; Japan, Philippine’s, Australia, and New Zealand for example. But we continue to work with all Asia-Pacific nations, and don’t often call for drastic measures to be taken against nations that don’t act democratically. For example the U.S. is in the process of strengthening its relations with Indonesia, but recently they have been committing some fairly undemocratic crimes, like deciding there should be fewer elections in Indonesia, and more appointments of civil servants. America is not going to break off its relations or new engagement with Indonesia over this and war isn’t any more likely between Indonesia and its neighbor’s as a result of this decision (which may be overturned anyway under judicial review).

The last component is Liberal Institutionalism. This has been an area of vital importance for America’s rebalancing policy. Institutionalism is the building and increased capacity of existing institutions where multiple nations come together to address key issues. These institutions are supposed to address a lack of mutual consultation between nations, alleviate suspicions, and be a platform for building good will. There are a great deal many organizations operating in the Asia-Pacific region, some including the U.S. and some which do not. They act as consultative body’s more so than actual cooperative ones. As in, there’s plenty of discussion and configuring of positions based on outcomes of conferences, but very little joint-capabilities from these conferences like NATO’s ability to carry out military operations or the UN’s ability to sanction states. When these institutions have a bite in addition to a bark, they may be effective instruments for balancing out competing interests and neutralizing would-be aggressors from taking actions that could negatively impact their relations with the rest of the Asia community.

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