Why is America Looking East?

After 2+ years in Vietnam I’m convinced that America needs to stop looking east and start looking west. The world has changed but America’s international orientation has not. We live in a global world where multinational companies control much of the world’s wealth and where their tentacles extend out to all continents and regions. Vietnam is a good example. From the rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel the skyline is ablaze with international neon – Dai-ichi (Japan), Mercedes (Germany), Sunwah (China), Prudential (UK, yes UK), Sheraton (US), Samsung (Korea), Gucci (Italy), Shell (Dutch?) and others. 35 years after the “American War” it is difficult to tell who the victor was – if any.

I read the International Herald Tribune to get my news when I’m in Saigon and it does a fair job of covering the globe. It’s when I come home to the US that I am stunned by the “old world” orientation. Every morning I comb the NY Times looking for articles on what’s happening in Asia. There is some coverage, but overwhelmingly the news is Euro-centric. Greece, France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, even Russia. They are all in trouble along with the US. Maybe it’s our preoccupation with bad news, but I’m convinced it’s more about history and heritage than what is happening in the world today.

Our founders came from Europe and we have never stopped looking in that direction. It’s where the great migration that settled the continent came from but Asia is where the world’s future is developing. The colonial world is history. The US is history as the only political and economic superpower. The new world is all about China, India, and SE Asia. China currently owns 16% of our $14.1 trillion national debt, more than any other country, and up from 6% in 2000. The UK is the only European country that holds a significant amount amount of US treasuries and that amount is $333 billion – less than a quarter of China’s holdings. If we don’t have a good global strategy they will simply own us in a few years.

China and India are major players on the world’s economic stage, and Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are coming on fast. It’s time to shift our focus and develop strategies for a global world. Rick Perry may think that Texas is the center of the universe, but I hope he knows where China is on the map because that’s the direction they’ll be coming from.

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