On June 5, 2017, the Carnegie Moscow Center hosted an open discussion on major power relationships in the Asia-Pacific region with John McCarthy, former Australian ambassador to Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and India.
Ambassador McCarthy posited that the United States has played a formative role in the Asia-Pacific region since World War II. He noted that since the inauguration of Donald Trump, U.S. foreign policy has been defined mainly by unpredictability in major issues such as those relating to North Korea and the South China Sea, to the detriment of America’s allies in the region. This, along with Washington’s impending withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), will cause the United States to lose its economic and geopolitical impact on the region over the next few years. Therefore, McCarthy expects that liberal states such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea will have to make their own political decisions—independently of the United States—with the aim of strengthening the Asia-Pacific region.
Ambassador McCarthy also observed a growing complexity in the region resulting from the economic and political rise of China, which has been bolstered by the “One Belt, One Road” program recently launched by Beijing. According to McCarthy, this program reinforces Asian economic and political dependency on China, but also serves as a geopolitical stabilizer in western China and other regions of Asia.
Concluding the discussion, Ambassador offered a brief outlook on Indonesia, which he views as one of the main powers in the Asia-Pacific. He believes that Indonesia’s advanced democratic system, its relative lack of problems with Islamic extremism despite having the largest Muslim population in the world, and its driving role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) give this country the potential to become a leading power in the Asia-Pacific region within the next few years in terms of political importance, military strength, and economic growth.
John McCarthy is a former Australian diplomat and has served as ambassador to the United States, Japan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Mexico. He is currently Chair of the Australia-India Council and Chair of the Advisory Board of the Griffith Asia Institute.
Dmitri Trenin is the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and the chair of its Foreign and Security Policy Program.