President Obama’s historic trip to Asia, which included the first visit to Burma by a sitting U.S. president, is clearly a watershed moment for U.S. foreign policy, human rights and democracy promotion. But it also marks an important development in addressing the global climate crisis. The U.S. is reconsidering its national security priorities and “pivoting” to the Asia-Pacific for a number of reasons. One of those reasons, though it often goes unsaid, is to compete (and sometimes cooperate) with China for influence in this key strategic region. However one feels about that strategy, this momentum should be harnessed in order to address the current and future effects of climate change on the vulnerable places and nations of Asia-Pacific (see here for our piece on this subject from last February, A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific).
That’s why we are happy to see President Obama and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra release a joint statement listing climate change as a top priority between the two nations. Here is the excerpt.
The two leaders agreed that non-traditional challenges would require close cooperation between Thailand and the United States in addressing issues such as nuclear security, climate change, disaster relief, and wildlife trafficking, which have become of global concern.
This was complemented with a statement by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Singapore:
We know energy can be a source of healthy competition, with countries racing to develop new technologies and renewables. But it can also be a source of conflict, fueling corruption and instability. And how the world uses energy is a key factor as to whether we will finally address the threat of climate change.
This does not come as a surprise. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell has been leading an engagement process on critical security and economic issues with the region for some time now (beginning with Vietnam in February), where climate change has been a core issues for discussion and cooperation.
However, as the Obama Administration lays the foundation for its second term, it is encouraging to see that addressing climate change will be at the center of the diplomatic engagement process with allies and prospective allies in the region.