When President Nixon appointed me his chief trade negotiator in 1972, I travelled to Sydney and Canberra to make a public address calling for the creation of a new Asia-Pacific economic cooperation accord.

 

Washington, DC: Not long after World War II ended, the United States found itself involved in a war between North and South Korea. This war from 1950 to 1953 was perceived in Washington as a battle to halt Communism spreading from China deep into the Pacific. That war made President Truman unpopular, and American foreign policy turned its attention back to its long interaction with Europe. In the late 1960s, the US began to be entangled in a communist revolution in Vietnam. Amidst daily Washington policy disputes about whether the US should again be dragged into a local revolution, President Nixon saw the need for articulation of a broader vision of what the role of America should be in the Asian Pacific and Indian Oceans. On 25 July 1969, President Nixon flew to Guam to present his vision of what American policy should be towards nations across the vast oceans towards Asia. Nixon said the US stood ready to assist in the defence and development of friends and allies of America, but it would not undertake the defence of all free nations of the world. In effect this meant all of these nations were free to choose their own path, but could not assume the American nuclear umbrella was automatically available without some form of alliance or alignment with US foreign policy.
Economic policy towards the Asia-Pacific remained undefined, other than encouragement for all nations to participate in trade liberalization under the GATT (the precursor to the WTO). However, when President Nixon appointed me his chief trade negotiator and personal representative on global economic cooperation initiatives in 1972, I travelled to Sydney and Canberra to make a public address calling for the creation of a new Asia-Pacific economic cooperation accord, to be buttressed by a new multilateral organization. Over subsequent years, there was little follow up, even when James Baker under President Reagan, again called for a multilateral economic cooperation arrangement for the nations of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There followed a number of explorations of possible new trading arrangements but without great momentum.
A total shift in American attention came with President Clinton’s decision to throw open the gates of the World Trade Organization to China. Clinton gave little attention to what this might mean for other nations in Asia or for the entire trading world. Looking back, this was a dreadful mistake as it opened the way for China to exploit and dominate US trade and commercial relations with Asia, without any defined rules of behaviour. The world in which we find ourselves at the start of 2023 is at an inflexion point, with the US and China aggressively decoupling commercially, putting many Asian nations in a predicament whether to befriend China, or the US, try to remain neutral. As China’s foreign policy became far more militant towards the US and other nations that resisted expansion of Chinese influence, we have all found ourselves in the midst of a new Cold War. The Quad is America’s focus now, as a means to assure mutual cooperation in defence of the sovereignty of Australia, Japan, India and the US. The intention is to strengthen defences against threats to the independence and freedom of action of its members. The Quad is intended to be enhanced defence, assisting its members when threatened by other nations. It will not be designed to take offensive actions against neighbours.
A less visible partner in this endeavour is the UK, as a result of long, close cooperation of the Navies of the US and UK in joint maritime management of peace in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Australia-UK-US [AUKUS] partnership is an integral extension of this partnership. With the Chinese leadership expressing an increasingly hostile stance towards the Quad’s members, new modalities of cooperation and mutual assistance will likely be developed, with the US involved rather than a remote observer of possible security dangers for all of the nations within the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas.

Harald Malmgren, D. Phil, Oxford and former Professor at Cornell University, aide to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford; advisor to several Asian leaders and heads of global corporations and financial institutions and frequent writer on world events.