1: Long thread follows … A lot of the commentary on RCEP today, some of which disses it as a minimalist trade deal, misses the point. If you’re American, you can’t just look at it while ignoring the larger context of 25 years of change in Asia.
2. The problem, especially for the American strategic class (of which I am a card-carrying member), is threefold:
3: The first strategic problem is that American power in this region has been premised on both security and economic pillars ...
4: The US was, for decades, the principal provider of both security-related public goods and of economic-related public goods and other benefits—as a demand-driver and also as a standard-setter ...
5. But as I and others have argued for years, the American role in this economic dimension may be rising in absolute terms but it is declining in relative terms. Pull that thread out 10-15 years and the US will not be the kind of demand driver it was in the 1980s, 1970s, 1960s …
6: So that makes the other pillar of American economic leadership imperative—to be a standard-setting nation and a driver of liberalization. Yet, the US is walking away from that role—and doing the walking away against the backdrop of a shrinking relative economic role overall.
7: So that leaves the United States overweighted as a security provider and underweighted as an economic rule and standard setter. Bluntly put, the US should not want to end up as the “Hessians" of Asia, as I jokingly put it.
(You Revolutionary War aficionados know the Hessians)
8: And this isn’t about business, or companies, or this or that example of FDI. It is about rules, norms, standards, and, above all, strategic momentum. American firms will be active in the region even if Washington is not. But they will adapt to someone else’s rules.
9: But we in the American strategic class continue to focus disproportionately on the US role in the region through the security lens. And that misunderstands power by missing how much the region changed between two bookends: the 1997-98 Asian crisis and the 2008 global crisis.
10: I’ve been warning about this in a lot of writing over a long period of time. One old chestnut is my 2012 essay in @ForeignPolicy with @Rmanning4, which contrasted “Security Asia” with “Economic Asia” and starkly warned Washington about the trendline: foreignpolicy.com/2012/10/31/a-t…
11: Another is my 2015 essay in @ForeignAffairs on how a region that is becoming more “Asian” and less “Pacific” is problematic for Washington strategically. Yet sadly, America seems more interested in trying to rewind the clock than in adapting to change: foreignaffairs.com/articles/east-…
12: That brings us to a second strategic problem: we in the US strategic class seem to think that everything in Asia is a China problem—refracting every relationship, issue, and initiative in Asia through the prism of Beijing. Yes, China is a whopping strategic challenge. But ...
13: This “Sinification of everything” misunderstands the deep roots and long branches of pan-Asian ideas, institutions, and ideologies—as I warned with @RManning4, in this 2009 monograph for @CFR_org: cfr.org/report/united-…
14: But it also misunderstands the degree to which third players in the region are also driving the play. It is a mistake to view everything, as President Obama argued when talking about TPP, through the prism of “US rules” vs. “Chinese rules.” Fragmentation is much more likely.
15: So as I argued in this recent overview essay for @CarnegieEndow, the region’s likely future will be *neither* Sinocentric *nor* US-centric but fragmented, built on a discombobulated patchwork where function drives form, not the other way around: carnegieendowment.org/2020/09/09/asi…
16: Thus the problem. The US continues to view most everything in the region through the prism of Beijing—as if a more “Asian” Asia would be peachy fine for US interests just so long as it isn’t “Sinocentric.” But one lesson of CPTPP and RCEP is that this is really not the case.
17: That brings us to a third strategic problem: the presumption of “Indo-Pacific” as our strategic guidepost. I love Indo-Pacific as a geographic construct. It captures something I've argued for 15 years: Asia should not be broken down into ahistorical Cold War geographies.
18: My 2011 essay in @TWQgw on “Why America No Longer Gets Asia” made this point starkly at a time when the Belt and Road didn’t exist and Xi Jinping wasn’t in power. A more connected Asia is a less American-centric Asia. But the US *still* doesn't get it: csis.org/analysis/twq-w…
19. And if you want “Indo-Pacific” to be a policy construct, not just a geographic one, then you need to reckon with what just happened—because now the region’s two megadeals, CPTPP and RCEP, do not include the largest economies in the “Indo” or across the “Pacific.” That's bad.
20: I'll end with this: My @CarnegieEndow business card says, “Vice President, Asia-Pacific.” In Moscow last year, a senior Russian official eyed it, squinted at me, and then joked that I was a “very brave American” to retain the term “Asia” instead of “Indo-Pacific” in my title.
21: Might I bluntly suggest that, if this trendline on American power and lack of adaptation holds, we need to start thinking and talking seriously about “Asia” again. We need to weigh the implications of a more "Asian" Asia for American interests, power, strategy, and policy.
22: I wrote this almost a decade ago: Gradually, but inexorably, the region is becoming more Asian than ‘‘Asia-Pacific,’’ especially as Asian economies look to one another, not just the trans-Atlantic West, for new economic and financial arrangements ...
23: ... It is becoming more continental than sub-continental, as East and South Asia become more closely intertwined ...
24: ... And, in its continental west, it is becoming more Central *Asian* than *Eurasian*, as China develops its western regions and five former Soviet countries rediscover their Asian roots. Have written on that one at length in the context of some writing on Central Asia ...
25: The last of the six sections in this 2017 essay I wrote hopefully captures at least part of the problem. The US should stop trying to rewind the clock and start being more adaptive: carnegieendowment.org/2018/04/27/rel…
26: And I know there are no easy strategic or policy answers here. None. And I certainly don't have all the answers. My point is just this: along the three strategic dimensions I refer to in this thread, we need to have a more complex, uncomfortable, and self-reflective debate.
27: And while we're at it, we will be (much) better positioned to deal with the adverse effects of the rise of Chinese power for US interests in the context of a broader Asia strategy rather than the other way around.
28: End of thread. Hope it was useful. Went way beyond what RCEP merits or deserves. The point is not to hype RCEP or dismiss RCEP. It is, rather, to be careful not to look only at RCEP (or CPTPP for that matter). There's a broader set of trends that's worth eyeballing again.

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More from @EvanFeigenbaum

20 Aug 19
1/6: Thanks, and agree 100%, so it's not a rejoinder but a fact. Sadly, the US doesn't coordinate that especially well anymore. More important, I've argued over many years that the US seems oblivious to longer-term structural changes, in Asia especially, altering the landscape.
2/6: From 2011 (before the Belt and Road existed or Xi Jinping had yet taken power): Some of the writing of a more integrated Asia was already on the wall. I explored why the US had lost the plot in this essay, "Why America No Longer Gets Asia" in @TWQgw: csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/le…
@TWQgw 3/6: From 2009: Two decades of post-Asian Financial Crisis ideas threatened to marginalize the US (or alter its role without major adaptations from Washington). I explored with @Rmanning4 in this @CFR_org monograph on "The United States in the New Asia": cfr.org/asia-and-pacif…
Read 6 tweets
18 Aug 19
1. Thread ... I want to make a small China/FDI and Belt and Road comment, prompted by reading a few more pieces that dismiss the significance of the thing on grounds that China's pledges "don't add up" and its pledge numbers are "fake." This is a caveat from anecdotal experience.
2: In many places of the place where China Inc. or Chinese entities invest, I don’t think aggregate capital flows are a sufficient measure for understanding impact, real or prospective.
3: There are plenty of countries where the numbers aren’t large—and are often (much) smaller than advertised by the propaganda organs— but where China is either one of a very few outside investors or where global capital flows simply haven’t had an especially meaningful impact.
Read 12 tweets
23 Jul 19
1: A long thread from me on US-China relations and local realities. This terrific and timely @nytimes article on Chinese investment in the US captures something crucial. For years, trade was contentious, investment less so. But that has changed utterly. nyti.ms/2JHLpar
2: Trade was contentious because it fueled an intuitive sense among some Americans that US-China interaction had become unbalanced. You can hear this in much of President Trump's rhetoric about unfair trade at his rallies. He also deployed it to effect in his run for President.
3: But investment *used* to be less contentious because it could mean jobs in the US, not China, jobs for Americans, not for Chinese. Put bluntly, it appeared to be a vote of confidence in America and in the US economy. Invest here, some said, and you "pay America a compliment."
Read 23 tweets
15 Jun 19
1. Thread: Some recent articles highlight Qian Xuesen, the Chinese rocket pioneer who everyone tends to bring up when they wish to reference how past US policies of pressure/expulsion led to deportations/emigration of US-trained or US-based experts who then built China's science.
2: Qian wasn't alone, so it's worth noting how many of China's strategic weapons science and engineering pioneers returned there from the United States.
3: Or they returned to China from education, study, research, or service in Europe, often in the mid-to-late 1940s and before the Chinese Communist Party took power. Much of China's post-1949 science and engineering relied on prior interchange with the United States and Europe.
Read 15 tweets
2 Feb 19
1: And these countries often leverage major power competition to their own advantage, which is something that is too often ignored because of the presumption that they have no agency.
2: The thing is, it's important to consider the circumstances — developmental and political — that face them, not us.
3: My experience, especially around China’s periphery, is that almost no policymakers find all aspects of “our” model or the “Chinese” model, such as it is, 100% appealing, 100% the right “fit” to their circumstances, or 100% applicable to the actual challenges they face.
Read 10 tweets
27 Dec 18
1: Since there's been some enthusiasm for encouraging an oppositional choice between the US and China, i.e., Country X or Y should "choose," we may apparently get an interesting empirical test with Bolsonaro ...
2: These lines jumped out at me: "The Brazilian president-elect and his inner circle believe that the US can be trusted to offset any losses involved in their pivot away from China." ...
3: "To counterbalance Brazil’s losses from a confrontation with China would require major US concessions on trade and investment ... "
Read 9 tweets

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