Amy Searight is an adjunct fellow with the Japan Chair at CSIS and adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Her research and teaching focus on Asian regionalism, Japanese politics, and international trade and financial relations. Dr. Searight served in the U.S. Department of State on the Policy Planning Staff, where she helped formulate U.S. regional policy toward Asia, and as special adviser to the U.S. ambassador for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and has been a faculty member at Northwestern University, a research fellow at Harvard University, a visiting scholar at the Institute of Monetary and Fiscal Policy at the Ministry of Finance in Japan, and a vice president at Stonebridge International, a strategic advising firm.
Articles by Amy Searight
After a decade of rising regionalist aspirations and a flurry of community-building initiatives, the past year and a half has seen a slight shift in the momentum and direction of Asian regionalism. While the signing of regional free trade agreements continues apace and discussions on regional cooperative mechanisms proceed unabated, the perceptions and political goals of many in the region have been recalibrated in the face of new challenges and new opportunities. By far, the biggest challenge was the global economic crisis, which had a mixed impact on Asian regionalism. On one hand, it spurred calls for regional action, much in the way of the financial crisis that hit Asia hard in 1997-98. Moreover, the relatively swift recovery of Asian economies seemed to highlight the fact that world economic power is shifting to East Asia. On the other hand, crisis revealed the extent to which East Asia remains deeply integrated with the global economy, in both trade and finance, and it called into question the relevance of regional solutions for dealing with global challenges.
New opportunities arose with the election of new political leaders in Australia, Japan, and the US, each of whom placed regional initiatives high on their political agenda. Australia’s Kevin Rudd and Japan’s Hatoyama Yukio laid out competing grand visions for regional architecture that engaged Asian diplomats and policy analysts in lofty and abstract debates about institutional design and the proper membership and pacing for community-building. The change in the US had an even greater impact on regional dynamics. After years of Bush administration policies that were perceived, fairly or not, as showing a lack of US interest in regional engagement, the Obama team took every opportunity to deliver the message that “the US is back” in Asia. Its outreach to ASEAN has been particularly aggressive, raising the hopes and expectations of those who would like to see greater US involvement in regional community-building.
On the ground, however, progress on achieving tangible cooperation in regional frameworks, both trans-Pacific and East Asian, has been meager at best. The global economic crisis gave rise to the G20 that, while elevating the symbolic weight of Asian economies in global governance, has also created institutional competition for regional frameworks. Regional economic integration faces emerging and unresolved challenges, as the noodle bowl of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) grows more tangled and the impact of Chinese economic competition deepens. Meanwhile, effective frameworks for multilateral security cooperation remain elusive.