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The Pacific Century

Stop complaining about Europe. Rather focus on Asia. That's the advice from Richard Haas (David), president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, in response to Secretary Gates' speech.

Asia is increasingly the center of gravity of the world economy; the historic question is whether this dynamism can be managed peacefully. The major powers of Europe - Germany, France and Great Britain - have reconciled, and the regional arrangements there are broad and deep. In Asia, however, China, Japan, India, Vietnam, the two Koreas, Indonesia and others eye one another warily. Regional pacts and arrangements, especially in the political and security realms, are thin. Political and economic competition is unavoidable; military conflict cannot be ruled out. Europeans will play a modest role, at best, in influencing these developments.

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Trans-Atlantic vs. Trans-Pacific

Barack Obama's first foreign trip as president will take him to Canada tomorrow, not to Europe. He gave his first press interview to an Arab TV station, not a European broadcaster.

Secretary Clinton went on a tour to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, but not yet to Europe. She brought "an invitation from President Obama to Prime Minister Taro Aso to meet him at the White House next Tuesday. He will be the first foreign leader received at the White House," reports the New York Times. Michael Green, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, describes in the Wall Street Journal how to freshen up "a key trans-Pacific alliance."

Should we get envious or even concerned that the new and cool team in Washington does not want to play "Hope & Change" with us? Is the Pacific region taking priority over Europe in Obama's US foreign policy? Could be, but that is not bad for us. Europe benefits from America's strong security presence in Asia. My friend Shawn Beilfuss, a supply chain manager in Melbourne, agrees and concludes: The Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic Relationships: Not a Zero-Sum Game.

Besides, we are still winning the Google Fight: Searching for "trans-atlantic alliance" produces twice more results on Google than "trans-pacific alliance." And we are even more popular, if you skip the dash after "trans."

Moreover, Vice-President Biden was already in Germany, as for instance Michael Knigge points out in a commentary for Deutsche Welle: Biden gave a foreign policy keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference. Europeans got all warm and excited, when Biden promised that the new administration would listen more, even though he stressed that America would also ask for more support. Europeans are not quite prepared to deliver, which French President Sarkozy emphasized by rhetorically asking in Munich: "Does Europe want peace, or does Europe want to be left in peace?" I think we learned from Japan how to be a good ally of the United States: just smile!

Endnote: European leaders are hitting the road as well and reorient their foreign policies in search of new economic deals. ABC News reports: Old Europe Reaches out to New Iraq

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the first German foreign minister to come to Iraq in more than 20 years, arrived one week after Nicolas Sarkozy visited Baghdad, the French president calling on other European countries to follow his lead "to support the peace."

Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves

My sister Daphne Wolf studied Burmese music in Yangon. Her music school is organizing relief aid. Daphne wrote this guest blog post:

Small and local aid agencies are best equipped to help the victims of cyclone Nargis because they are already operating on the ground. Donations to these agencies are more effective since big aid organizations are still struggling to access the affected areas.
Local relief groups such as the Music School Gitameit, are providing the most urgently needed first-aid supplies.

For two years I lived in Yangon, studying Burmese traditional music and teaching classical flute at the Gitameit Music Center, a private school founded by the American pianist Kit Young in 2003. I returned to Berlin in December 2007 to finish my masters in Musicology and Southeast Asian Studies.

My friends, former colleagues, and students all tell me that Yangon, the old capital, is widely devastated and that the fertile delta of the Irrawaddy River is still flooded:

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US Allies: Are Asians so Different from Europeans?

NYT Columnist Roger Cohen wrote Europe Votes Democrat, but Asia Tends Republican and Michael J. Green, who served on the National Security Council staff from 2001 to 2005, claims that the Iraq war has been good for US interests in South East Asia. He writes in The Washington Quarterly:

If anything, most major powers in Asia have used the war on terrorism and the conflict in Iraq to align more closely with the United States in order to balance rivals within the region or to advance their global standing.

Greg Sheridan agrees with this analysis and adds in The Australian (HT: Joe Noory):

Australian commentators almost universally mimic the European critique or more often the liberal American critique of the Bush administration and all its works. What is clear is that they have almost no sense of the Asian context at all.

Other conservatives, however, worry about the US standing in in East Asia: Michael Austin from the American Enterprise Institute opines that appeasement politics weaken US credibility in Asia: "Some of America's most important bilateral alliances are at risk of coming unmoored."