Commentary / Japan

U.S. is more engaged than ever in Indo-Pacific

by William F. Hagerty Iv

At the United Nations General Assembly in September, U.S. President Donald Trump laid out a positive vision for cooperation among nations based on mutual respect and sovereignty. He said that the United States seeks strong partners who control their own destinies, and he showed how his foreign policy is making America and the world safer, stronger and more prosperous.

Nowhere is that more true than here in the Indo-Pacific region. Our work here with allies on North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, our commitment to sustainable regional infrastructure development, our assistance to improve security relationships, and our collaboration with partners to address nonmarket-oriented policies and practices illustrate that the U.S. is more engaged than ever before with Japan and other like-minded countries on the opportunities and challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.

The clearest example of continuing U.S. leadership and engagement was our global effort to achieve a diplomatic opening with North Korea. In close coordination with Japan, we worked with countries in this region and around the world to mount the pressure campaign — including three rounds of U.N. Security Council resolutions that were passed unanimously — which eventually yielded Kim Jong Un’s commitment to final, fully verified denuclearization at the historic summit with Trump in Singapore last June.

While there is much to do to implement these commitments — and we will continue to engage with North Korea to do so — we are no longer facing the immediate threat of ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests. Thanks to the steadfast resolve of our allies in Japan and South Korea, our readiness and deterrence capabilities remain elevated and our combined strength has kept us secure.

The U.S. has advanced freedom, openness and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region for over seven decades, and Trump’s National Security Strategy highlights these efforts as a top priority. The Trump administration believes that U.S.’s investment in the Indo-Pacific region is good for America, good for business and good for the world.

Now, more than ever we are supporting greater private sector engagement to ensure sustainability, while creating jobs and wealth; we are focusing our development efforts toward high-quality infrastructure investment; and we are reforming our development finance institutions to provide strong alternatives to state-directed initiatives that come with many strings attached.

One example of this effort is the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, which would more than double the U.S. government’s development-finance capacity — to $60 billion — to support U.S. private investment in strategic opportunities abroad. Another example is the newly announced trilateral partnership among the U.S., Japan and Australia to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region.

This is in addition to two agreements the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) signed last year with partners in Japan, as well as the significant current investment OPIC has supported in energy, education, financial and agricultural sectors across the Indo-Pacific region.

For such initiatives to be successful, we must continue to ensure free and open access to the Indo-Pacific seas and skies, as well as a secure cyber future. Our new security initiatives for the region announced in August at the ASEAN meetings in Singapore aim to do just that. Nearly $300 million in security assistance will strengthen maritime security, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and peacekeeping capabilities in countries across the region, as well as counter transnational crime. This is more assistance than we’ve provided in the last three years combined.

The U.S.’s new, expanded defense budget for this year is squarely focused on meeting the security challenges of the region, and will enhance our efforts to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as respect for lawful uses of the sea and skies. Here in Japan, we continue to provide our key ally with advanced defense capabilities to ensure not only the readiness and effectiveness of the Self-Defense Forces, but also to strengthen their interoperability with U.S. forces.

Finally, the U.S. remains devoted to fair and reciprocal trade. On the margins of the U.N. General Assembly, we agreed to joint action with Japan and the European Union to address the unfair trading practices of third countries, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions caused by state-owned enterprises and overcapacity.

To that end, we envision a range of robust actions, including World Trade Organization reforms. These efforts again reflect the premium we place on engagement and leadership in building a global trading system that benefits all.

The Indo-Pacific region — which we also call home — is central to the economic and security interests of the U.S. Our involvement in the region benefits not only our interests, but the interests of our partners, allies and neighbors.

Indeed, as Trump has said, the U.S. is in the region to advance peace, promote security and work with our partners to achieve a truly free and open Indo-Pacific where sovereign nations thrive and prosper. With our unwavering ally Japan, our commitment to this region is stronger than ever before.

William F. Hagerty IV is the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

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