Mr. President, like you, I’m a businessman. You started in real estate and moved to merchandising, and I started in merchandising and moved to real estate. We’ve both sold billions of dollars' worth of property and products. In our businesses, we started in different places, but we ended in similar places. We went where the market took us, and we did so with force.
I, for instance, bet my business on Asia — and that bet has paid off. I am far from alone on this side of the Pacific. There are thousands upon thousands of American businessmen in China, not to mention key regions around the world. Mr. President, we speak your language and can be an incredible source of on-the-ground information for you and your administration. I hope you will make use of us.
I do the bulk of my work in Asia, so let’s start there. With new base access agreements, military-to-military engagements, and a growing navy, the United States’ commitment to the Asia-Pacific region is strong and growing stronger.
The American economy is also heavily intertwined with Asia. We exported $452.7 billion in goods to Asia in 2016, which is a 57 percent increase in just 10 years. Half of American states depend on Asia for a third or more of their trade-related jobs. Perhaps most critically, over 3.4 million American jobs are supported by exports to Asia.
That is why Asia does not just need American military might. The size of existing economic ties explains why Asia needs America’s economic strength.
And yet, Asia needs American economic strength precisely because it also needs China’s economic engine. The sheer size of the Chinese market makes it a critical facet in every aspect of the region’s political and economic life. There are a lot of plusses there — but there are stark downsides as well. To put it simply, our allies are concerned that, as their economies become more dependent on China, they will be more vulnerable to China’s inevitable ups and downs and often rapid policy shifts.
The United States and its partners had a plan to diversify our allies’ economic relationships. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a 12-nation pact designed to create a free trade market large and diverse enough to provide countries many options in pursuing a given economic activity — and, whether that option was a company in China or a company in the Philippines would be entirely up to the market. Mr. President, I understand why you had to pull the United States out of TPP, of course — it was flawed in a host of ways, and could have had some negative impacts in certain sectors of our economy.
Yet we may have missed an opportunity in pulling out of TPP so quickly — and that is where the businessmen on the ground here could have been so valuable to you. We heard constantly how the Chinese government wanted few things more than to see TPP die.
Mr. President, I know you were no fan of TPP — but China hated it more. For this reason, instead of giving away TPP, we could have offered to trade it. That is the negotiator in me speaking, a trait I know you share. There is a lot we need to work with China on, after all. We need to work with China on the North Korean threat, fighting terrorism, calming hotspots around the world, and a host of other issues. The public has seen you working diligently to secure Chinese cooperation — but securing that cooperation would have been easier if we still had the leverage TPP provided.
As a fellow businessman, I know this intersection of security and economics is not always intuitive. Throughout my career doing business back and forth across the Pacific, I took security for granted, assuming the politicians and the generals had it handled. But I now recognize that security and economics in our modern world are increasingly linked, and we can no longer afford to think of them separately.
Organizations like the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a bipartisan think tank in Washington, have sought to devise strategies and policies that leverage this relationship. I am committed to making sure policy development at this intersection of security and economics continues, which is why I’ve recently joined the organization’s Board of Directors. I have no doubt other people whose businesses span the globe will join organizations like CNAS.
Mr. President, you didn’t get where you are by leaving your leverage on the table, or by not making full use of the resources at your disposal. You have some of the best policy advisors in the world on your team, but even the best advisors cannot be all over the globe at every point in time. The American business community, on the other hand, already is. We are a reliable source of information — one that speaks the language of business, but also the language of security and international relations. We know the stakes, and we understand the big picture.
Please, use us. We are ready to help.
Robert Roche is a Member of the Board of the Center for a New American Security, Founder and President of Roche Enterprises and Chairman and CEO of Acorn International. Follow Robert Roche on Twitter, LinkedIn or his blog.
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