In 2011, Obama administration
launched an approach to East Asia called “re-balancing Asia.” One
aspect of rebalancing was supposed to be the strengthening of security
relations in Southeast Asia, including through bilateral security assistance.
However, an analysis of US security assistance to Southeast Asian nations shows
that, in nominal dollars, global security assistance for Southeast Asia fell by
19 percent since 2010, the year before the launch of the rebalancing.
Considering inflation, the overall decline in United States security assistance
to the region would have been even more pronounced.
Out of the ten countries in Southeast Asia, only Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam received larger expenditures from US security assistance in 2015 than in 2010, and only Vietnam received more support for programs that directly promote military-military relations. A large part of the aid to Laos is focused on mine clearance programs and the majority of US security aid to Myanmar was aimed at control and de-mining of narcotics. Help to US treaty-mates Thailand and the Philippines fell by 79.9 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively, since 2010; aid to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – important partners in the field of intelligence exchange, counterterrorism, anti-piracy patrols and other programs – down 51.7 percent, 58.2 percent and 71.4 percent. Security aid to the small, rich Brunei and Cambodia remained negligibleThe decline in actual aid suggests that the White House has not followed the vow to strengthen security relations with the Southeast Asian countries. The Obama administration has begun to promote maritime safety assistance for Southeast Asian countries, but only since 2015. To be sure, the US law required the White House to reduce some aid to Thailand after the May 2014 coup, and American leaders remain hesitant about increasing safety. Relations with semi-authoritarian countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which also saw all aid levels drop, are large, relatively stable and critical US partners that help maintain freedom of navigation in Asian waters.Meanwhile, evidence from Europe and the Middle East suggests that the White House continues to give priority to these regions. As the graph above shows, support for Southeast Asia fell by $ 34.5 million between 2010 and 2015, while total US security assistance to the Middle East and North Africa increased by nearly $ 1.3 billion in the same period US security assistance to Europe fell by $ 52.9 million between 2010 and 2015. The emergence of the so-called Islamic State and the civil conflict in Ukraine were important reasons for the continued focus on Europe and the Middle East. Nevertheless, the US security support to Southeast Asia remained relatively small: the aid to the Middle East and North Africa was more than fifty times as large in 2015 as aid to Southeast Asia, while aid to Europe was almost three times as large. as in Southeast Asia in 2015. Given the relatively small amount of aid to Southeast Asia, the White House could probably have increased aid to Southeast Asian countries between 2010 and 2015 without funding for countries in Europe and the Middle East change drastically.
Achievements through Rebalance: Since the launch of the Rebalance, we have made significant progress in promoting this vision. Among a number of achievements we have: · We have strengthened our treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines, while maintaining our long-standing alliance with Thailand. We have improved our defensive position in the region and set Asia as a priority for our most advanced military capabilities.· Stimulated stronger trade and investment links, mainly through the new high-quality Trans-Pacific Partnership with eleven other countries, to deepen economic integration and to set unprecedented environmental and labor standards;· Deepens partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and India, and strengthened our unofficial relationship with the people of Taiwan;· Promoting a more sustainable and productive relationship with China, defined by extensive areas of practical cooperation on global challenges and constructive management of differences.· Strengthened the institutional architecture of the region to strengthen a rule-based order, including by joining the East Asia Summit and sending the first US ambassador to ASEAN.· Supported the ongoing transition from Burma to democracy and a closer relationship with the United States;· Work to promote people-to-people ties through programs such as the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. All these developments, together with many others, lay the foundation for America’s long-term involvement in Asia. But we need to do more to strengthen this foundation and build on it. In-depth and network relations: The rebalance is based on strong American ties with countries across the region. We are working to strengthen cooperation between our allies and partners, using their capacities to address common regional and global challenges. Alliances: Our alliances remain the core of the rebalance, and our treaty obligations towards them are sacred. During this trip, President Obama plans to meet leaders of three close allies – the Philippines, Australia and Japan – as a reflection of their vital importance to the United States; the president also met ROK President Park in October. With the Philippines we are expanding the cooperation through the improved Defense Cooperation Agreement and help to improve the maritime capabilities of the Philippines. With Australia we continue with Force Posture Initiatives, to increase bilateral and multilateral exercises and training. With Japan, as announced during the historic official visit of Prime Minister Abe this year, we are transforming the alliance on the basis of our new defensive guidelines. With the ROK we are modernizing the alliance possibilities and strengthening our ability to tackle threats from North Korea. In Thailand, we encourage the military government to restore democratic governance and civil liberties while maintaining our time-honored alliance. As we continue these efforts, we move beyond the hub and spokes model of the past, to a more networked architecture of collaboration between our allies and partners – including through extensive trilateral cooperation frameworks – built on shared values ??and interests. Role of China: While President Obama told Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit in September, the United States welcomes the rise of a China that is peaceful, stable, prosperous and responsible in international affairs. Building a constructive relationship with Beijing that simultaneously supports extending practical cooperation on global issues, while openly tackling differences between us is an important part of the Rebalance. We support China to become an increasingly capable and more active partner in addressing regional and global challenges and in working with us and others to strengthen the existing international system of standards, rules and institutions. The world benefits when China is invested in helping to solve regional and global problems. We encourage China to move away from a growth model that is driven by exports and construction to a more dependent on household consumption, and work to ensure that its economic policies establish a rules-based level playing field in accordance with its international obligations. We aim for joint initiatives in areas of mutual interest, such as climate change, global public health, sustainable development, non-proliferation and the fight against transnational organized crime. At the same time, we manage the real and complex differences between us – in areas such as cyber, market access, maritime safety and human rights – with frankness and determination. China can’t effectively exert influence while it selectively ignores international standards. These are issues that concern not only the United States but also a large part of the region, and they will be an important part of the President’s agenda during the forthcoming trip.