From left to right: Senators Lindsey Graham, Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton, and John McCain meet with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (back center) during the 2016 Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. Image: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee

Congressional Visit Highlights Breadth and Strength of Ties to Asia

ASEAN Japan Korea Taiwan Asia The Mekong

On, June 8, 2016, US senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) returned to the United States after taking part in a congressional delegation to Asia. The senators traveled to South Korea, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan, where they met with regional leaders and pledged their continued commitment to and support of US allies and partners in the region. While in Singapore they also attended, along with US senators John McCain (R-AZ), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John Barrasso (R-WY), the Shangri La Dialogue, where Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met with 19 of his counterparts from around the Asia-Pacific to discuss on-going security issues of common interest.

The states that the senators represent all have significant ties to Asia. In 2012, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Iowa all sent 30% or more of their total exports to Asia. Alaska sent a quarter of its exports to Japan alone in 2015, the majority of which were marine products valued at nearly $490 million. This included snow crabs, of which the United States is the third largest exporter to Japan and Alaska is the main contributor to those exports.

In addition to being a major destination for Japanese investment, including in real estate, Colorado also boasts significant ties to countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The University of Colorado at Denver recently held a symposium on the culture and business practices of the Philippines and Singapore that was open to universities throughout the United States that are a part of the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) program. The University of Colorado-Boulder has a long standing partnership with Singapore’s Temasek Polytechnic which allows students from each school to work together to build automobiles.

Arkansas hopes to strengthen its own position in the ASEAN market, where it sent 5% of its exports in 2012. In June and July 2015, Arkansas signed two new trade agreements with Vietnam, becoming the first state to have such an agreement with the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Nai. There is also the potential for Arkansas to become a hub of Vietnamese investment, particularly in furniture assembly and coffee production. Arkansas is also home to one of the United States’ largest taekwondo federations, and the Korean martial art generates millions of dollars for the state economy every year.

Representatives from Wyoming have made a number of trade missions to Asia in recent years, often focusing on energy exports. The state also welcomes many Asian visitors each year and recently hosted and art exhibits by a prominent Chinese artist. A tiny Wyoming town also enjoys a unique relationship with Vietnamese coffee.

Iowa’s grains and meat exports continue to be highly valued in Asia. They comprise the bulk of Iowa’s exports to Japan, ASEAN, and Asia as a whole. Though the senators did not visit China, its market for Iowa pork is valued at over $3 billion and is expected to increase thanks to a partnership between the US Meat Export Federation and China’s Alibaba Group.

South Carolina and Arizona both sent 28% of their exports to Asia in 2012. That year, Arizona’s largest goods exports destination was China, with exports valued at $1.2 billion. Their relationship extends to education as well. In February 2016 the University of Arizona became the first school to offer a joint US-China law program, establishing a partnership with the Ocean University of China. South Carolina has also seen growing ties with China, as several Chinese firms have invested in the state, creating jobs for of the already trained workforce who had previously seen their textile and manufacturing jobs disappear due to outsourcing.

Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.