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- As Delivered - 

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at the full Committee hearing on opportunities and challenges in Asia with Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken:

“Well, thank you.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for calling the hearing. 

“And Mr. Deputy Secretary, I’ve known you for a long time: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee.  It’s been a pleasure working with you over the years in the various roles in which you’ve served.  And we’re very fortunate to, I want to say this publicly, we’re very fortunate to have such a dedicated and capable person as the number-two in the State Department.  So thank you for all you do.

“I was encouraged that the President and Secretary Kerry charged you with focusing on Asia during your time as Deputy Secretary.  And that’s a focus we badly need, and I think you’re the right person for the job.  Half the world’s population calls Asia home, and the nations of Asia now account for more than a third of global GDP.  From India to Japan, from Indonesia to Micronesia, Asia has a greater impact on global affairs than ever before. 

“As a Pacific power, the United States faces no shortage of foreign policy challenges in Asia, from North Korea’s reckless behavior, to the impacts of climate change, to the recruitment of fighters into violent extremist groups.  The way we manage the rise of China in the years ahead may well be the most consequential foreign-policy issue of the 21st century.  The decisions we make today will determine whether the values and norms we championed in Asia after World War II will continue to thrive. That’s why this has been called this America’s Pacific Century and that’s why there is no better time to focus on this dynamic part of the world.

“The so-called Asia Rebalance has hatched a number of important diplomatic achievements.  We’ve strengthened our core regional alliances with Australia, Japan, Philippines, and South Korea.  With our ally Japan, we’ve established new trilateral forums with Australia, South Korea, and India.  We’ve ramped up our engagement with ASEAN and demonstrated a clear commitment to the East Asia Summit.  And we have normalized relations with Burma, as that country has emerged from decades of isolation and begun the hard work of moving toward a more open, democratic society.

“Yet despite all these efforts, I regularly hear concerns from our allies and partners in the region that the Rebalance is more a shift in military strategy than about diplomatic engagement.  So this morning, I hope we can drill down and look at other ways the State Department is making Asia a priority, and areas where the Department’s approach could be more robust.

“I’ll start with a question that sounds more like it should be on a geography quiz: as far as the State Department is concerned, with respect to the Asia Rebalance, what do we consider to be Asia? 

“I ask this because, in my view, the world’s largest democracy—India—should be an integral part of our Asia policy.  As the world’s third-largest economy, India has the potential to  become a major economic player in East Asia, and is already playing a constructive role on maritime issues.   

“China regards Asia as a strategic whole, with its ‘One Belt One Road’ policy, aiming to expand Chinese influence beyond East Asia, through Central Asia, to the Caspian. 

“Yet the State Department’s structure—with three different bureaus responsible for South and Central Asia and East Asia and the Pacific—I believe creates an artificial barrier to cooperation across the entire region.  So I would like to hear about what the State Department is doing to overcome obstacles and deal with Asia as a whole, single, strategic priority that includes South and Central Asia.

“Staying for a moment with structural issues at the State Department, I’d like to discuss if we’re doing all we can from a resource standpoint to ensure our Asia policy will succeed.  The East Asia Bureau is the smallest regional bureau in terms of personnel, and the region accounts for the second-lowest level of foreign assistance.

“Now, obviously, any questions about State Department resources has to start here on Capitol Hill.  I strongly support investing more in diplomacy and development across the board.  Our international affairs budget gives us tremendous bang for the buck.

“But I also wonder whether anything can be done in Foggy Bottom so that the Rebalance is adequately resourced.  We’ve heard again and again that this is a priority, and that should be reflected in the investments we’re willing to make.

“Lastly, I’d like to turn to the South China Sea.  We expect the Law of the Sea Tribunal to issue a decision in the next month or so involving the claims of China and the Philippines.  China’s response to the ruling could ratchet up tensions. 

“While the United States doesn’t take a position on the specific claims made by various parties, we do want to see China play by the same rules as everyone else.  So I support the ideas behind the Pentagon’s Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative, which aims to help our Southeast Asian partners know what China is doing off their coastlines and to share that information with each other.  If the U.S. and our partners are on the same page, we can work together to keep China in check and make sure China doesn’t threaten our strategic and economic interests in the region. 

“But it’s not clear to me why the Defense Department is leading the way on this instead of the State Department.  DOD’s new authorities for this program are entirely duplicative of existing State Department authorities.  I worry that putting such a program under DOD’s control could erode State’s security-cooperation responsibilities.  Our diplomats are responsible for overseeing security assistance, and it should stay that way.  And whatever level of cooperation exists between State and DOD on this matter, I’m concerned that this is another example of what some call the militarization of foreign policy.  This feeds into those concerns that the Asia Rebalance is a military policy—even in areas that have traditionally been diplomatic responsibilities.

“So Mr. Deputy Secretary, I’m interested in hearing your views on these issues, as well as some other areas I’ll be touching on as well.  I thank you again for your service and commitment.  I look forward to your testimony.”