Pivot to Asia has been a key component of the U.S. foreign policy since Obama Administration. With Asian countries rapidly rising economically, such a policy is logical. However, the interpretation and implementation of the policy is subject to question on its true purpose and ultimate objectives. The current tension in the South China Sea, Korea Peninsula and Iran and over all intense relationship with and among China, India, Japan and Russia begs answers on what does the U.S. really hope to accomplish with her Asia Pacific foreign policy. The actions and their consequences up till now have left Asia in stress against Asian countries’ desire which is to achieve prosperity through economic development. The U.S. seems to have made a wrong assumption or taken the wrong actions leading to unexpected outcome.
The ‘Pivot’ or ‘Rebalancing’ term was introduced in the Fall of 2011 during the Obama Administration, but the core of its strategy of shifting emphasis to Asia was a continuation from the G. W. Bush government and the early stage of Obama’s first term, such as strengthening ties with existing allies in Asia, redeploying or balancing troops and increasing naval presence in Asia, signing free trade agreement with South Korea and engaging with TPP development as well as cultivating partnership with India and Vietnam. Obama’s formal announcement on ‘Pivot’ and taking actions in military sphere such as new deployment of troops and equipments to Australia and Singapore certainly had alerted China worrying what is the real purpose of the ‘Pivot’.
As a Congress Research Report, authored by seven social scientists (Mark Manyin et. al.) on March 28, 2012, stated, the “pivot” is a conviction (benefit) that the center of gravity for U.S. foreign policy, national security, and economic interests is being realigned and shifted towards Asia, and that the U.S. strategy and priorities will be adjusted accordingly. However, the report noted the risk of ‘pivot’ being its ‘cost‘ which may cause a significant reduction of U.S. defense spending elsewhere, a reduction in U.S. military capacity in other parts of the world, and may jeopardize the Congressional plan to cut Navy spending. Additionally, the perception among many that the “rebalancing” is targeted against China could strengthen the hand of Chinese hard-liners thus deteriorating US-China Relation and making it more difficult for the United States to gain China’s cooperation on a range of issues. Moreover, the report warned that the pivot’s prominence would have raised the ’costs‘ to the United States if it (Obama) or successor administrations (Trump) failed to follow through on the ‘pivot’ plan. One key assumption, that for years ‘many’ countries in Asia have encouraged the U.S. to step up its activities to provide a counter balance to China’s rising influence, is later proven not exactly correct. The Asian nations, seemingly changing more so lately（with Japan as an exception perhaps）, want a peaceful environment for economic development rather than a stressful confrontational atmosphere brought on by ‘pivot’.
There are many essays written about ‘Pivot’. From a nice early assessment made by Kenneth Lieberthal, The American Pivot to Asia - Why President Obama’s turn to the East is easier said than done, Foreign Policy 12/21/20111, to a latest PhD research work, The Case of the Pivot to Asia - System Effects and the Origin of Strategy, by Nicholas D. Anderson and Victor D. Cha, Professor at George Washington University and former Ambassador to South Korea (SK), Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 132, no. 4, 2017-18, one can see that there is a lot of issues concerning how the ‘Pivot’ was executed and what was accomplished. After researching these ‘pivot’ studies, I have found one article by Emanuel Pastreich, an American academic, very revealing about the intriguing intention of the ‘Pivot’ program and how the US military establishment is really in control of it. Pastreich was born in Nashville, TN, (10/16/1964), attended Lowell High School in San Francisco and began studies in Yale University and obtained a B.A. degree in Chinese (1987, during college he also studied abroad at Taiwan University), then obtained a M.A. degree in comparative literature from Tokyo University (1991, dissertation in Japanese language) and completed his PhD in East Asian Studies from Harvard University (1998). So Pastreich is an American scholar with a deep understanding of Asia.
It is necessary to go into Dr. Pastreich’s background to appreciate his views on the U.S. foreign policy on Asia. Academically, he served as assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, George Washington University, and Solbridge International School of Business. He is currently an associate professor at the College of International Studies, Kyung Hee University. Previously he served as an international relations and foreign investment adviser to the governor of Chungnam Province (2007-2008), SK, as an external relations adviser at the Daedeok Innopolis research cluster, and was appointed to serve on the committee for city administration (2010-2011) and for foreign investment (2009-2010) for the city of Daejeon. Pastreich also served previously as the Director of the KORUS House (2005-2007), a think tank for international relations housed in the Korean Embassy in Washington D.C., and as the editor-in-chief of Dynamic Korea, a journal of the Korean Foreign Ministry that introduces Korean culture and society. Prof. Pastreich is no doubt an expert on Asian affairs well versed in Asian languages and having working experience in SK, Japan and Taiwan, Asian allies of the U.S.
Recently, Professor Pastreich published a lengthy opinion in the Korea Times (5/12/2018), entitled, From the Prison Cells of Guantanamo Bay to Embassy in Seoul - Harry Harris, the rise of an American warlord. His opinion is certainly very explicit in criticizing the inappropriateness of appointing General Harris as the ambassador to SK, while NK and SK are attempting to make peace and the U.S. is trying to negotiate with NK for denuclearization. But more importantly, his arguments for against Harris’s appointment touch upon the strategy of ‘Pivot’ and who is guiding it into a wrong path. In my analysis, Pastreich had made an astute observation and his opinion deserves US mainstream media coverage and clarification as well as our serious reflection. Thus, after presenting a brief history of ‘Pivot’ and Professor Pastreich’s scholarly background above, I am ready to use the next column to discuss Prof. Pastreich’s essay in detail. The arguments against and the inappropriateness of General Harry Harris’s appointment as ambassador to SK (after Australians expressed displeasure to his appointment as Ambassador to Australia), a detailed account of General Harris’s Navy career rising like a warlord (including his role as the Commander of Quantanamo Prison Camp and rapid promotions to become the Commander of Pacific Command) and what factional groups existing in the U.S. military will be discussed, analyzed and interpreted in relation to the U.S. ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy as part II.