U.S., China Not Competitors in Southeast Asia, State's Hill Says

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - China's rising influence in Southeast Asia is not creating an environment of competition for the United States, says Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Answering questions during a May 22 speaking engagement at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, Hill acknowledged that "much of the good economic news in Southeast Asia can in fact be traced to the strong Chinese growth," but added, "having more China does not mean less U.S. in Southeast Asia."

"(W)hat I want to caution against is an implication that somehow we are in some sort of competition with China for the hearts and souls of Southeast Asia," Hill said.  "In fact, we want Southeast Asia to have a good relationship with China. We do not see this at all as opposed to our interests."

The State Department official acknowledged that China's "rapid economic development and its rising political influence pose new challenges and opportunities to all the countries of Asia as well as to the United States."  But he added that the United States "can work with China throughout the world, including in Southeast Asia."

The United States "welcomes the emergence of a China that is peaceful and prosperous, and that supports international institutions," Hill said.  "We are engaged with China on many, many different levels - on almost every issue that affects our broad strategic and economic interest. We have found many areas in which our interests and policies converge and, as importantly, we are able to engage candidly in those areas where we have found differences."

The assistant secretary said that for seven consecutive U.S. administrations the United States has "supported and encouraged China's integration into the global system."  Hill pointed out China is now a member of important security and economic organizations such as the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The next step for China, Hill said, is to take on a greater role in the international system, "a system from which China has benefited greatly."  This includes, he explained, constructive engagement with China on issues ranging from Iran's nuclear ambitions and North Korea's nuclear weapons to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

China's treatment of domestic economic issues, such as those relating to intellectual property protection and currency, helps shape the global system, Hill said.  "China, like the U.S., has a responsibility to help build a better future for all of us. We are all in this together, both sides of the Pacific."


Hill cited the active engagement of the United States in multilateral organizations such as ASEAN, APEC and ARF.

Southeast Asia is a leader in the global economy and one of the United States' most important trading partners, he said. In 2005, U.S. exports to ASEAN were almost $50 billion while imports from the region were nearly $100 billion - the fifth largest market for U.S. exports in the world. U.S. direct investment in ASEAN exceeds that in China and Hong Kong, Hill said.

Hill noted that during the November 2005 APEC meetings in Korea, President Bush and ASEAN leaders announced the Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership. (See related article.)

"The goal of this partnership is to institutionalize the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and set a foundation for sustaining and expanding our ties well into the 21st century," Hill said.  The partnership will touch on all segments of the relationship, including economic, educational, cultural, and security, he said.

Finalized details for the plan should be presented to ASEAN ministers and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for signing at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference in July.

According to Hill, Southeast Asia is transforming.  "We fully support and encourage this transformation and the openness and cooperation it is inspiring. Promoting development, expanding economic opportunity, fighting corruption, combating terrorism, providing security, and ensuring the health of our citizenry are priorities that we increasingly agree on," the assistant secretary said.

Hill said the United States also supports efforts throughout the region to promote human rights and spread democracy, "because this is the only way that people who are truly free can reach their fullest potential." (See Democracy and Human Rights.)


The State Department official also cited the strong relationship between the United States and Singapore based on friendship, common interests and a shared strategic perspective.

Strong U.S.-Singapore commercial ties have received a big boost with a bilateral Free Trade Agreement that has produced more than a 10 percent increase in trade since 2004.  "Incredibly enough, U.S. exports to Singapore and its 4.3 million people equal about one-half of our exports to China and its 1.3 billion people," he said.

The United States and Singapore also are expanding military training exercises and collaborating in the fields of military science and technology, Hill said. "We are working closely together on the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Container Security Initiative, helping to protect both of our countries from weapons of mass destruction," he added. (See Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.)


Taiwan remains "a very close interest" to the United States, Hill said.

"Maintaining cross-Strait peace and stability is vital not only for the security and prosperity of the people on both sides, but for the rest of the region as well as the U.S.," he said.

The assistant secretary reiterated U.S. commitment to its "one China" policy.  "We respect Taiwan's democracy and are pleased to see the 23 million people on Taiwan flourishing," he said.

Hill urged Beijing to undertake dialogue with Taiwan's elected leaders in the Democratic Progressive Party. "Only through these contacts can mutual trust and confidence become the basis for what we profoundly wish to see and take as an abiding concern: peaceful resolution of the issues between both sides of the Taiwan Strait," he said.

For more information on U.S. policies, see East Asia and the Pacific.

The text of Hill's remarks is on the State Department Web site.