Shock of the New: Congress and Asia in 2009
Essay from the NBR Analysis Series

Shock of the New
Congress and Asia in 2009

by Daniel Twining and Edward Gresser
February 1, 2009

This essay overviews the many immediate critical challenges and opportunities related to the Asia-Pacific region facing the 111th Congress while also suggesting a longer-term strategic U.S. approach.

Executive Summary


Congress and the administration must not only address specific Asian issues during this financial crisis but also develop a long-term agenda to manage rapid change in Asia. This will require conceptual adjustment, energetic and creative U.S. leadership, and international commitment at a time when the American public is disillusioned with conflict abroad, alarmed by economic distress at home, and more concerned about domestic than international affairs. Congress can play a critical role in promoting policies that allow the U.S. to shape and lead an emerging Pacific century, including strengthening the U.S. position by bolstering relations with core allies, reshaping international institutions to ensure that China and India assume majorpower obligations as well as rights, intensifying engagement in Southeast Asia, and shaping a global agenda that addresses the public’s concerns while maintaining the U.S. commitment to open markets, alliances with democracies, and multilateralism.

  • The primacy of the financial crisis and Democrats’ focus on domestic issues may make Asian affairs appear less urgent; however, dangerous flashpoints and shifting balances of influence will present the new Congress and administration with early challenges and major long-term choices. These might be exacerbated by rifts within the party or between the Congress and president over issues such as trade.
  • Addressing the global financial crisis will require coordination and cooperation with Asia’s large (and trade-dependent) economies to avoid protectionism, export subsidies, and currency devaluation. More generally, the pressures of the financial crisis could render small disagreements and misjudgments explosive and contribute to greater social instability in the region. U.S. policymakers must carefully weigh the potential political fallout in the region from their economic policy choices.
  • Addressing state weakness in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the potential flashpoints of Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula, requires that the U.S. enhance relations with core allies while continuing to integrate India and China. Congressional support for these relationships, as well as for U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic leadership in Asian relations, will help determine the U.S. role in an emerging Pacific century.