California’s Role in Asia

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More than 100 Asian and American diplomats, CEOs, financial advisors and individuals from Governor Schwarzenegger’s office, Asian embassies and corporations, such as Visa, Chevron and Levi Strauss, gathered last month in San Francisco for a conversation about what Asia wants—and requires—from the next U.S. president.

The purpose of the discussion was to hear the findings and recommendations from a new report, published by The Asia Foundation, entitled “America’s Role in Asia: Asian and American Views.”

The report examines critical political, economic and security issues and the importance of these issues to U.S. interests in the Asia region, from stability on the Korean peninsula, conflict in Afghanistan and the global war on terror, to energy security, environmental degradation and trade. The report is unique in that it solicits the views of both Asian and American policy specialists on both sides of the Pacific.

At this event, four of the distinguished project chairs presented their views on what should be on the agenda of the next American president. Three authors traveled from Asia, and each called for more engagement between the United States and Asian nations.

Although relations between the United States and Asia are handled formally in Washington, D.C., and Asian capitals, California figures prominently in U.S.-Asian relations. The state is a gateway for trade between the dynamic Asia-Pacific region and the United States. Asian markets represent significant commercial opportunities and growth for California exports.

More Asian Americans live in California than any other state, representing about 12 percent of the population. Between 2000 and 2005, Asian Americans living in California increased from 3.8 to 4.7 million people.

Many are prominent leaders and extremely active citizens in their communities. This is a growing but not a new trend: Dalip Singh Saud, a delegate of the United States House of Representatives, served the 29th district of the state of California from 1957 to 1963. Saud, a Sikh, was the first Asian American member of the United States Congress. In 2004, Van Tran was elected a Republican member of the California State Assembly and is the first Vietnamese American to serve in any state legislature. In 2005, Mike Honda, U.S. Congressman from California’s 15th congressional district, became the highest-ranking Asian American member of the Democratic National Committee, the party’s vice chair.

From the time Japanese immigrants first arrived in 1843 and the Chinese contributed their blood, sweat and tears in building America’s transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, Asians immigrants have pursued the “American dream” and have often risen to become captains of industry. In 2006, Business 2.0 magazine chose two Asian American entrepreneurs—Raj Chhibber, CEO and president of BrighTex Bio Photonics, LLC, and Stanley Yang, CEO of NeuroSky, Inc.—as having two of the five most inventive start-ups in the Silicon Valley.

Asian Americans have long strengthened both California and the United States’ societal fabric by bringing different histories and cultural and religious traditions. But there is concern in Asia that the United States is not doing much to strengthen educational, intellectual and cultural ties between the U.S. and Asia. A major recommendation in the “America’s Role in Asia” reports is for the U.S. to exercise its public diplomacy more effectively by creating a new program that would build cultural, artistic and intellectual bridges between America and the peoples of Asia.

The report suggests American private sector and non-profit groups can also play a strong role in this endeavor. Headquartered in San Francisco, The Asia Foundation has worked to foster greater understanding and dialogue between the United States and Asia in order to advance its mission of promoting a peaceful, prosperous, just and open Asia-Pacific region.

John J. Brandon is director of The Asia Foundation’s International Relations Program in Washington, D.C., and is the director of the “America’s Role in Asia” project. The “America’s Role in Asia” reports are available on the Foundation’s web site at asiafoundation.org

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