Asan Plenum

Panel: Is the U.S. Back?

Date/Time: Tuesday, April 28, 2015 / 10:15-11:30

Moderator: Hahm Chaibong, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies


Joshua C. Ramo, Kissinger Associates

James Steinberg, Syracuse University

Togo Kazuhiko, Kyoto Sangyo University

Wu Jianmin, International Advisory Committee, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Plenary Session 1, titled “Is the U.S. Back?” examined a number of key issues that the United States has been confronted with in recent times, ranging from the Asian Infrastructure investment Bank (AIIB) to American innovations and its ‘network power’. The session began with a short introduction of each speaker by Dr. Hahm Chaibong, president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, followed by an invitation for each speaker to freely explore whether the United States is ‘back’.

Mr. Joshua C. Ramo, vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, began by echoing Dr. Kissinger and questioning whether the United States had ever even ‘left’ in the first place, and if it is indeed ‘back’, upon what is its ‘basis’. Mr. Ramo stated that the world was at the beginning of an ‘information revolution’, a radical age that is as ‘powerful as the industrial revolution’. Networks—be it the Internet, trade, FINANCE—are driving the new dynamic of power in the world. This network power provides an opportunity to reexamine how to build a grand strategy in an age where the United States struggles with problems of legitimacy.

Mr. James Steinberg, dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and former deputy secretary of state, emphasized the strengths of the United States, with special focus on American innovation and technology. He reminded us that whilst it may be true that China is developing rapidly and at a rate quicker than the United States, the American advantage is clear—‘a three trillion dollar stock lead over China’. Dr. Steinberg called for a ‘dose of reality’ in how we frame China in contemporary discourse. With regards to forming a ‘grand strategy’, we must be prepared to see a ‘diversity of challenges’ and to look at issues with a long term perspective.

Ambassador Togo Kazuhiko, professor and director of the Institute for World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University, provided his insights on the American ‘Pivot to Asia’. He praised the Obama-Abe joint statement on the Senkaku Islands, but noted that American strategies in the region may be weaker in other areas, such as regional cooperation, Russia and Japan-Korea relations. He used the example of Mike Honda’s recent denouncement of Japan on the comfort women issue to explore what role the United States may be able to take in ameliorating tensions between the two nations.

Finally, Ambassador Wu Jianmin, a member of the International Advisory Committee at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, began with a provocative question: ‘what went wrong with Washington DC?’ Declaring that the United States ‘misread’ and ‘misjudged’ both the situation and Chinese intentions regarding the formation of the AIIB, he ultimately acknowledged that the United States had ‘misbehaved’. He argued that the AIIB was a ‘win-win, positive sum game’. China, he explained, was not ‘undercutting’ existing institutions, and it was in the interest of the United States to join the AIIB.

The panel’s opinions on the AIIB were further explored during the Q&A section of this session. Ambassador Togo answered that he personally did not see any reason for the United States and Japan to oppose the AIIB. Regarding ‘trust problems’, Dr. Steinberg pointed out the challenges of ‘elucidating intentions behind inherently ambiguous actions’, remarking that ‘testing’ intentions may be the only way to assuage fears.