As the US consul general here in Hong Kong, I sometimes get asked whether the United States is “turning away” from Asia. My answer to this question is an unequivocal “no”.
The US remains deeply involved in Asia, as we always have been. This year, like any other, has seen a steady stream of high-level engagements. Just this month, for example, here in Hong Kong, I have hosted our secretary of commerce and the chairman of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan paid a port call.
Events such as these are helping to set the stage for President Donald Trump’s five-nation visit to Asia in November, which will include stops in Beijing and in Vietnam to participate in the APEC Leaders’ Meeting.
US activity in Asia is especially robust in the economic realm, and the data tell an important story. For example, consider the ASEAN – which has rightfully been a top focus for Hong Kong this year. Cumulative foreign direct investment from the US into ASEAN economies totaled more than US$274 billion as of 2016. US investment in that crucial region grew at an average rate of 12 percent each year since 2004, and that investment shows no sign of letting up; in fact, American companies now employ about one million workers in ASEAN countries.
As for trade, US trade in goods with Asia as a whole has confounded the headline writers this year by increasing each and every month of 2017 compared with 2016.
While the data reveal the US’ abiding economic links with Asia, they also underscore our continued dependence on international trade and investment for economic growth. This is why the US is so tenaciously committed to fair competition, and to letting markets – not governments – determine economic outcomes.
The US is an open market for foreign traders and investors, so we seek similar openness overseas. Because we must.
This effort seems particularly urgent when one considers the future direction of the global economy – a future that will be characterized by digitization, artificial intelligence, and the blurring of distinctions between ideas, goods and services.
The Boston Consulting Group recently said, “Under the new globalization framework, domestic demand and the ability to deliver services to vast, borderless communities of digitally connected consumers will become just as important to generating growth as the export of goods, if not more so.”
These changes explain the direction of the current year’s discussions at APEC, and the problems that the US ambassador to APEC – who recently visited Hong Kong – is pushing his colleagues the hardest to address in that critical forum.
Protection of intellectual property rights, the liberalization of services trade, proper rules for data privacy, and ensuring free and safe cross-border data flows are no longer theoretical “next generation” trade issues – they are urgent matters whose resolution (or failure to do so) will determine the health and sustainability of the global economic system going forward.
Hong Kong has a big role to play in these matters. As a thought leader in APEC and the World Trade Organization, Hong Kong is both a valued partner to the US and an inspiration to other economies. As an economy that thrives based on openness, transparency, and respect for rule of law – and an economy that is already competitive in traditional services and wants to be competitive in digital services – Hong Kong stands to gain a lot from the crafting of smart regional and global rules on 21st century cross-border economic issues.
It is a good sign that Secretary Edward Yau was just appointed vice chairman of the next WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires.
Meanwhile, the US and its economy will thrive and grow, and become more and more involved in the Asia-Pacific. More than half of US trade is with APEC economies, and that trade helps fuel our healthy 3 percent economic growth rate.
Our world-class companies will continue to be on the cutting edge of new technologies and new business approaches, and much of their growth will come here in Asia.
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