A foreign policy in Asia that works at home
This week, I will travel to the Asia Pacific region to meet with our allies Japan and South Korea, and to talk with Chinese government officials in Beijing. Our engagement in Asia is essential to US security and economic interests, but today the region faces significant threats.
On the Korean Peninsula, a nuclear-armed North Korea threatens the security of the United States, our allies, the region, and the world. I agree with our senior military officials that there is no military-only solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and I was glad to see President Trump embrace diplomacy earlier this month.
As we go into talks with North Korea, though, it is critical that we are clear-eyed about the challenges. Three generations of North Korean dictators have sought a face-to-face meeting with a sitting US president. For Kim Jong Un, such a meeting is a prize in itself — an attempt to legitimize his brutal regime’s status as a nuclear power. I support talking to our adversaries, but we should be skeptical that he is negotiating in good faith and is willing to halt his nuclear expansion even as he snatches the trophy of a picture with an American president.
Effective, lasting diplomacy requires more than showmanship. Diplomatic breakthroughs don’t happen overnight; instead, they are the result of time-consuming, painstaking negotiations conducted by experienced diplomats, in close consultation with our allies. If it occurs, a summit will be only the beginning, not the culmination, of talks to freeze and ultimately denuclearize North Korea.
It is also critical that we negotiate from a position of maximum strength. While our diplomats are talented and hard-working, we currently lack an ambassador to South Korea, our envoy to North Korea recently retired, and many posts in the diplomatic corps are vacant. To achieve our national goals, we need a State Department operating at full capacity.
China presents another challenge — and opportunity — for us in the region. The United States and China have many shared interests and many areas where we cooperate, including on critical security issues like counter-proliferation and pandemic prevention. In other areas, however, China’s actions are far more aggressive.
While our two economies are deeply intertwined and many Massachusetts businesses have significant equities in the Chinese market, China often pursues policies that cut out American businesses. It has taken advantage of many American companies seeking to do business there, limiting access to its market and aggressively targeting American intellectual property. By some estimates, unfair Chinese policies have cost millions of hard-working Americans their jobs here at home.
Recent setbacks in China’s approach to the rule of law, peaceful expression, and human rights also trigger alarm bells. And in some cases, including in the South China Sea, China’s actions do not appear to match its words, leading to serious questions about their strategic intentions in the region.
For many years, the United States hoped China would be transformed by engagement with the international community and that, over time, the country would embrace economic and political openness. But by now it should be clear that this strategy has failed. I favor engagement, and I believe in a relationship of mutual respect — but we must also be candid and transparent about our disagreements and concerns.
For too long, policy makers in Washington have treated foreign and domestic policy as independent of each other, but these boundaries are increasingly fluid. This reality requires us to look beyond our borders, even as we prioritize the safety and prosperity of our own people. It also requires us to reconsider what is truly in our national interest and to pursue policies that work for all Americans, not just giant corporations.
Even as we modernize our own military, we must set the conditions to stay competitive here at home by investing in science and technology, education, infrastructure, and other engines of economic and national security — and by asking those American companies who enjoy these benefits of America to pay their fair share to keep us strong. It means we take care of our returning service members with bipartisan work like the law Republican John Cornyn and I passed to make it easier for experienced, active military to get better paying jobs when they transition to civilian life. It means that as we pursue economic growth, we need to stand up for American workers, consumers, manufacturers, and small businesses. It means we should run a trade policy — including tariffs where necessary — that works for American workers, not just for multinational corporations. But it also means we must recognize that trade should serve our larger foreign policy goals, not the other way around.
As I visit Japan, South Korea, and China this week, I recognize that our alliances around the world are one of America’s unique strengths. Now more than ever, we must stand with our allies and partners to uphold our shared interests. To do so, we need a foreign policy that leverages all our national power, not just our military might. I look forward to meeting and working with my counterparts to ensure that Asia remains a part of the world where every nation can prosper.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is a member of the Armed Services Committee.