TOKYO — Secretary of State John F. Kerry attempted to sharpen the point of the Obama administration's so-called "pivot" to Asia policy here Monday, outlining a vision for what he described as a "Pacific Dream" — not unlike the "American Dream" — in which Asian nations could grow more closely together with each other and the U.S. than ever before on economic and security issues during the decades to come.
Closing out a whirlwind 10-day diplomatic tour that included stops in Europe, the Middle East and three major Asian capitals, the secretary of state characterized the vision within the context of recently amplified tensions over the possibility that the region may be on the verge of erupting into a new era of military confrontation.
With nuclear threats from North Korea having dominated many discussions during his stops in South Korea, China and Japan, Mr. Kerry said he had "consulted closely" with leaders in the three nations and that he was "certain" all of them and the U.S. are "united" in their feelings about the antagonistic rhetoric pouring recently from Pyongyang.
"There can be no confusion at this point," he said in a speech delivered at the prestigious Tokyo Institute of Technology. "The North's dangerous nuclear missile program threatens not only North Korea's neighbors, but it threatens its own people, and it threatens this concept of the Pacific Dream."
"Moving forward together means it is time also to put long-festering territorial pursuits behind us. The stakes are far too high and the global economy is too fragile for anyone to allow these inherited problems to divide the region and to enflame it," Mr. Kerry said in prepared remarks. "Unilateral action and the failure of diplomacy would carry too great a cost, so we need to follow the example of the students at this school, think creatively and innovatively, and work together to find peaceful and diplomatic solutions to these differences."
While the North Korean threat made the most headlines during his trip, Mr. Kerry's speech reflected the importance placed by the Obama administration on landscape of other issues where the secretary of state sought to break ground with Asian leaders -- particularly in the areas of environmentalism and grow U.S.-favorable free trade agreements.
A high-point for the mission came Sunday night, when Mr. Kerry appeared beside Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, with both men saying that Japan is now very close to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an 11-nation free-trade pact aimed at deepening the economic link between U.S. allies in the Western Hemisphere and Asia.
"With Japan on board, this trade agreement would represent 40 percent of global GDP," Mr. Kerry said.
Some foreign policy insiders in Washington, along with Chinese scholars in Beijing, have argued that America's true intent with the TPP is to subvert the rising economic dominance of China, which is pursuing it's own, alternative international trade deals in Asia.
Mr. Kerry sought to downplay such logic during the weekend.
He told reporters the separate deals sought by China might even work in concert with the TPP during the years ahead, a suggestion that seemed to encapsulate the clear and careful effort made by the secretary of state to play up the possibility of deeper unity between Washington and Beijing on everything from North Korea to the global fight against pollution.
Over the weekend, China and the U.S. joined in a rare "joint statement," which called for "forceful" action by global leaders to get tough in their collective response to "climate change."
"Both sides consider that the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding climate change constitutes a compelling call to action crucial to having a global impact on climate change," according to the statement made Saturday as smog lay thick over Beijing during Mr. Kerry's visit to the city.
Reflecting on the development afterwards, during an intimate round-table discussion with reporters traveling through Asia with him, Mr. Kerry said the climate change statement was "in some ways" as important — and historic — as China's assertion that it is committed to working with Washington toward the goal of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
"It reflected an embrace of an urgency, and a statement about Climate Change itself, and its implications, and the need to move that has not been there [before]," Mr. Kerry said. "If you're measuring the answer to that question by movement and change in terms of a elevating this effort and getting into a joint initiative, I think it's a big deal."
"But I also think what they did on North Korea was a big deal because of the way they did it," he added. "They don't normally do joint press [statements]. They also don't issue that kind of a joint statement."
With regard to the fight against climate change caused by what environmental scientists call "greenhouse gas" — specifically carbon dioxide from burning oil, coal and other fossil fuels — the Obama administration appears eager to bring China deeply into the fold of efforts already being pursued by the Japan and the U.S.
A joint U.S.-Japan statement over the weekend said the two nations "share the view that anthropogenic climate change represents a threat to the security and economic development of all nations."
"We plan to deepen our mutual engagement in advancing low-carbon growth," said the statement, circulated to reporters after Mr. Kerry had visited with Japanese students, who recently designed a car fueled by nothing but light from the sun.
Awed by the vehicle, whose futuristic design includes a streamlined roof covered by sleek solar panels, Mr. Kerry told the students that the big goal is to get cars like it on the road for common people to drive.
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