Indeed, the president's tour had echoes of August 1941. Seventy years
ago, as the fascist powers ran rampant, FDR and Winston Churchill met
aboard a ship off the coast of Newfoundland. Their goal was to give hope
to a world confronting the Axis nightmare of military aggression,
political tyranny, and closed economic blocs. Their answer was to
promulgate an alternative vision around which peace- and liberty-loving
nations could rally. The "Atlantic Charter"
did just that. It envisioned an open and non-discriminatory world order
based on principles of collective security, multilateral trade,
self-determination, and freedom of the seas.
The charter's principles, quickly endorsed by the anti-Axis
coalition, would inform U.S. plans for the major postwar multilateral
organizations, including the United Nations, the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
Even after the outbreak of the Cold War, Atlantic Charter principles survived within the Free World.
Today's global environment is far more benign than 1941, of course.
But China's dramatic rise and assertive behavior have sowed doubts about
its commitment to the principles that have underpinned the
Western-dominated liberal order since 1945.The United States and China's
neighbors are asking the same questions: Is China a status quo power, seeking only modest reforms to an order that has permitted its dramatic rise? Or is it a deeply revisionist one, skeptical of existing norms of behavior and determined to transform regional and global order in narrow self-interest?
The jury is out on whether China will become a "responsible stakeholder."
Nevertheless, the Asia-Pacific desperately needs "rules of the road" to
govern its security, political, economic, and maritime relations.
Negotiating those principles and norms, however, will not be easy.
For decades, Asia-Pacific security has been underpinned by a
"hub-and-spoke" system of alliances between the United States, at the
core, and Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand,
Singapore, and the Philippines, among others. China's aggressive
behavior in 2010 and its bellicose rhetoric regarding the South China
Sea have only reinforced the desire of Pacific allies both new
and old for a forward U.S. military presence. President Obama's
announcement that U.S. marines would be permanently deployed in
Australia offered critical reassurance to nations hedging against
At the same time, many U.S. allies are being pulled into China's
economic orbit, given that juggernaut's voracious growth. Until
recently, the United States appeared to be ceding Asian-Pacific economic
leadership to China, effectively allowing Beijing to dominate
emerging regional economic architectures that excluded Washington. The
president's decision that the United States should attend the East Asia
Summit (EAS) and become a permanent member of that group, coming on the
heels of his vocal endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in
Honolulu, signaled U.S. determination to prevent the emergence of a
China Inc. economic bloc. In the words of Professor Carlyle A. Thayer, the United States has "turned the multilateral tables on China."