Missing in action: Asian nations can’t be found in US trade policy

Politics Down Under can be pretty upside-down.

Kevin Rudd led his Labor Party to victory in Australia’s 2007 election. Shortly after settling into the prime minister’s office, Rudd and his team did something rarely seen from the leadership of a left-leaning party: call for a big increase in defense spending.

Indeed, Rudd announced the biggest military buildup in Australia since World War II. The Australian Defense White Paper, released in May, offered a blueprint for a multiyear, multibillion dollar investment in new hardware, including ships, submarines, planes and cruise missiles.

Perhaps the most startling revelation in the paper: It’s a candid assessment that more military muscle was needed to counterbalance a rising China and declining U.S. presence in the region.

Yes, President Barack Obama swept through Asia in a series of meetings last week. Yes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has racked up a good many frequent flier miles visiting the region. And, yes, the standard Asian “hot spots” — Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea — all get mentioned in White House press briefings.

But despite all the trips and talks, there are plenty of signs the Obama administration doesn’t get it. In Asia, trade has long been a cornerstone of our security interests, but efforts to strengthen trade relations are conspicuously absent from the administration’s Asia portfolio.

Trade with Asia is vital to America’s future. America is a trading nation; a third of our economy comes from trade. Asia accounts for more than a quarter of global trade — more than the U.S. and Europe combined. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, half the world’s 10 most free economies are Asian nations.

The White House is fading. The South Korea Free Trade Agreement, hammered out and signed June 30, 2007, is gathering cobwebs as it awaits ratification. The administration refuses to push for it, even though recently 88 members of Congress (half from each party) recently wrote a letter pleading to dust off the proposal.

The administration has not even started to develop a free trade agreement with India (one of the region’s fastest growing economies) even after New Delhi signed a trade pact with China and drafted one with the European Union.

Washington, D.C., however, has almost forgotten how to spell free trade. The White House is obsessed with global climate change regulations and treaties that are more likely to kill both jobs and trade than clean up the environment.

When the U.S. is seen as a less reliable security and trading partner in Asia, trouble happens. This is not only a lesson of history; it could well be an iron rule that governs the course of the 21st century.

It is time for the White House to wake up, reinvigorate its security alliances with Asia and declare America open for business.

Examiner columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).

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