This is a make or break week for the Trump administration’s economic approach to Asia. A year ago at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) – the region’s premier economic venue – President Trump articulated an American vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. As APEC convenes in Papua New Guinea on November 17-18, countries are looking to see whether U.S. rhetorical commitment to the region has translated into a tangible trade and investment agenda.
Vice President Pence is positioned to make a persuasive case. With the passage of bipartisan legislation in Congress to establish a new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC), America’s ability to support infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific and beyond will more than double to $60 billion. At the same time, from Malaysia to the Maldives, there is growing disillusionment with Chinese investment, with countries increasingly concerned about unsustainable debt, corruption, and a loss of national sovereignty.
The United States has arrived at a moment of strategic opportunity. To seize it, Vice President Pence will need to both emphasize America’s growing resources for economic engagement with the region, and lay out a series of concrete initiatives that go beyond bilateral trade talks. A new major effort in the digital domain – a key area of U.S-China competition – would be a good place to start.