By Robert Poczik
We are a Pacific nation. That may sound strange coming from a Western New Yorker who lives on the East Coast where we have so many ties to Europe. But we need to remember that we have a vibrant West Coast, which is a natural portal to Asia.
I say this as someone who has lived in India and who has traveled extensively in China, Japan and India over the past 20 years, and who has tried hard to educate himself on recent developments in Asia.
Asia can be very broadly defined; we can focus on China, India and Japan, which are home to 40 percent of the world’s population and generate about a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).
It is projected that by 2030, the four largest economies in the world in terms of GDP will be the United States, China, India and Japan – three out of four in Asia, where we need to have a large presence.
Much of the growth of the world’s economy can be attributed to the phenomenal growth of the economies of China and India. Over the past 20 years, they have lifted more than half a billion of their citizens from poverty to middle-class status – more than the entire U.S. population. Those new Asian middle classes have emerged as major consumers in the global economy. They now have access to products – cars, air conditioners, cellphones and computers – that were previously out of reach.
That is why General Motors sold more vehicles in 2016 in China (3.6 million) than in the United States (3 million). It is why Apple sells more iPhones in China than in the United States, and why Boeing views Asia as the largest future market for its commercial airplanes. If we view nations in Asia only as threats because of cheap labor, we may forget that they are also vital trading partners and constitute markets eager for American goods.
We have five states with ready access to the Pacific Ocean – California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska.
Those five states have a combined GDP of $3 billion, and California alone has the seventh-largest economy in the world, roughly comparable to France. Our two largest ports are both in California.
If we become too insular and America-centric in our view of the world, we may forfeit our role and influence in Asia, and we do that at our own peril. President Barack Obama was absolutely correct regarding the need for America to “pivot” to Asia economically, diplomatically and militarily. If not, China will gladly fill any vacuum created by America there and in any other region of the world. That’s why I say we are a Pacific nation and need to begin to think and act like a Pacific nation.
Robert Poczik, now retired, worked for 26 years as an administrator in the State Education Department and for 10 years for a research and evaluation firm in New York City.