(CNSNews.com) – On the second day of his European tour Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry played down the administration’s declared focus on Asia, sounding almost dismissive of a policy his predecessor championed.
“It used to, you know – people called it the pivot, right?” Kerry said in reply to a question during a youth engagement event in Berlin, Germany.
“We are paying attention to Asia, and so are you,” he said. “But we’re not doing it at the expense of Europe, not at all.”
At the forefront of “people” who referred to a “pivot” to Asia was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who first laid out the concept in Foreign Policy magazine in late 2011.
“As those wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] wind down, we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities,” she wrote in an essay entitled “America’s Pacific Century,” laying out a vision of “engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next 60 years.”
“This kind of pivot is not easy, but we have paved the way for it over the past two-and-a-half years, and we are committed to seeing it through as among the most important diplomatic efforts of our time,” she wrote.
Clinton expanded in a subsequent speech – also called “America’s Pacific Century” – in Hawaii, where she said the winding down of the wars placed the U.S. at “a pivot point.”
The “pivot” term stuck, although some administration officials preferred to refer to a “rebalance” to Asia. (At a U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing Tuesday Acting Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Yun used the term “strategic rebalance” several times.)
Washington’s Asia-Pacific partners, which include designated “major non-NATO allies” Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, welcomed the declared new regional focus.
Chinese officials and analysts meanwhile fretted about what they see as a containment strategy, with one scholar arguing in the state-run China Daily last November that “the U.S. wants to convince China’s neighbors that the Asia-Pacific needs Washington’s presence and protection in order to ‘unite’ them to strike a ‘strategic rebalance’ against China in the region.”
Obama’s second-term secretary of state appears set on “rebalancing the rebalance.”
During his confirmation hearing, Kerry voiced skepticism about the need to increase a military footprint in the Asia-Pacific.
“I’m not convinced that increased military ramp-up is critical yet,” he said. “We have a lot more bases out there [in the Pacific] than any other nation in the world, including China today.”
Pointing to the agreement to rotate U.S. Marines through a base in northern Australia, he said, “You know, the Chinese take a look at that and say, ‘What’s the United States doing? They’re trying to circle us? What’s going on?’”
Kerry in that hearing also took issue with the word “pivot.”
“I think ‘pivot’ implies that we’re turning away from somewhere else. I want to emphasize, we’re not turning away from anywhere else.”
When the State Department this month announced Kerry’s itinerary for his first foreign tour, the choice of Europe and the Middle East prompted more questions about what had become of the Asia policy. (Clinton’s inaugural trip in early 2009 was to Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia.)
In Berlin Tuesday, Kerry was asked about the U.S. policy on Asia.
“Let me begin with the question of Asia and Europe, because I want to make this very clear to everybody,” he began. “Last year and the year before, there were sort of questions in the minds of some people in Europe: Is the United States turning away from Europe, are we facing – more involved with Asia, etc.
“It used to, you know – people called it the pivot, right? What I want to make clear to you is this: We are paying attention to Asia, and so are you, and so should you. But we’re not doing it at the expense of Europe, not at all. And in fact, President Obama’s announcement about the U.S.-E.U. Trade Agreement is evidence of the fact that we think Europe is critical to creating the kind of leverage, if you will, that comes from a larger market and from our working out the rules of behavior between us.”
Kerry, who has European heritage and spent a year at a boarding school in Switzerland in 1954, reminisced in Britain on Monday about boyhood visits to the London Zoo, and in Germany on Tuesday recalled riding his bicycle around Berlin, including venturing into the Soviet zone of the then divided city.