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International Relations

'US focus on Asia will remain strong'

US foreign policy has a strong focus on Asia. That is not likely to change in Obama's second term. Josef Braml of the German Council on Foreign Relations explains why.

Deutsche Welle: US President Obama said, "We are here to stay," about a year ago during a trip to Australia. It was a clear message - the Asia-Pacific in future will have top priority for the US. That is not likely to change in Obama's second term in office. What does US policy focus on?

Josef Braml: Hillary Clinton also said, before Obama made that statement, "We're back." I asked Henry Kissinger what his take on that statement was and he said he wasn't aware that we had ever left. The US has stationed a large number of soldiers there, for example in Japan and South Korea. One objective is to contain the economic giant China. China is also seen a military rival, and a rival when it comes to securing energy resources. At the same time, there is a great dependence on China. China's financial assistance has helped to save America from a financial collapse, after the economic and financial crisis. But China's help has also contributed to the creation of the bubble that, in the end, burst. This macro economic imbalance between the US and Asia, especially China, continues to be a big problem. The Americans were living beyond their means and were only able to do so because not only the Federal Reserve was pumping lots of money into the economy, but the Asians were also keeping their reserves in US dollars. It was not out of self-interest that they invested in America - they made their own currencies weaker while strengthening the dollar so that the Americans could buy Chinese products with the money they borrowed from China. This symbiosis worked for a time, but it also created the bubble.

The bubble has burst and now America has to come up with a new economic model. And the Asians have to consider whether their investments, which are still in US dollars, are still safe. Those are now the main issues. There is no trust when it comes to security policy issues, but at the same time, there is interdependency in financial and trade policies. Both sides, however, want to free themselves from this dependency. But that can only happen step by step and they will have to be careful that in the process, more complications do not arise.

Is it possible to say where the focus will be in the next four years - whether there will be more emphasis on economic interests or on the US' role as global police and as a counterweight to China?

One should not see the two things as separate. One can only understand US trade policy when military policy is taken into account and vice versa. The military spending also has to be financed. America's military strength depends on its inner strength. America's largest security threat is not China, not terrorists, not other dangerous states, but it is America's own weakness which endangers it most. That must be taken seriously. If America presents itself as a protecting power in Asia and offers protection to countries such as Japan, South Korea, and even Australia, which would otherwise not feel safe with regards to China, that comes at an economic cost. I don't think South Korea would have signed the trade deal with the US had it not anything to do with security. The deal it signed was not really that great for South Korea. So you see how trade and security policy is interlinked.

American will, however, have to figure out how it will continue to finance its military presence. It has great fiscal problems, and will have to make huge cuts in military spending. The US will have to bring more of its troops home and invest more in drones in order to reduce political and also financial costs. This is a new development which is perceived to have less political and financial costs. And if you look at these drone bases, you get the impression that it is not only about targeting and killing terrorists, but also about the US controlling its trade and energy routes and resources. And if you look at the deal with Australia, it is also about controlling China's trade and energy lifelines as well.

Beijing has congratulated President Obama on his re-election. In the last few months of his campaign, though, he repeatedly said he would crack down on currency manipulation, price dumping, patent and copyright breeches, and so on. Nonetheless, the Chinese saw Obama as the better candidate …

Yes, a lot is said during election campaigns and not all promises are kept. You have to keep in mind just how dependent the US is on China - you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you too often. I think Obama knows just how dependent America is on China's good will and vice versa. Should America's economy go downhill, China will also be greatly affected. And the accusation of currency manipulation would have been more justified a while back. Look at the development of the renminbi, it has risen recently. And I see another development: that China is trying to get away from the dollar trap. They can't just jump out of it the bonds immediately because that would be self-destructive - that would go against their own interests. They are doing it slowly - they are no longer keeping all of their foreign reserves in dollars, but now also in mineral and energy resources and they are thus competing with the Americans. They are also strengthening - slowly but surely - their own currency, which sooner or later will be internationalized. Then there will be three strong currency blocs: the dollar, the euro and the renminbi. This multipolarity is very important because it is precisely the dollar's dominance which allowed the Americans to live beyond their means. But times have changed.

When it comes to the territorial disputes, for example in the East and South China Sea, what role does Washington have to play? Could it act as a mediator?

I see Washington less as a go-between. Washington has a vested interest in having countries which feel threatened by China under the protection of the US - the Pax Americana. I really don't see Washington here as an impartial mediator.

Interview conducted by Esther Felden

DW.DE