Departing from Hawaii en route to China on February 20th, 1972, President Nixon quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: “Our history will be more determined by our position on the Pacific facing China than by our position on the Atlantic facing Europe.” When President Roosevelt spoke these words in 1905, the US was just beginning to open commercial ties with Asia. Throughout the twentieth century, Asia’s influence over US history became increasingly pronounced and at times dangerous. Even though WWII began in Europe, for the US the war began in the Pacific, as did subsequent military actions in Korean and Vietnam.
President Obama and Vice President Biden have frequently called the USA a “Pacific Power.” This occurred most recently by Vice President Biden abroad the US Navy combat ship USS Freedom this past Saturday, and becomes more apparent as the USA withdraws from the Middle East and increases its military presence in the Pacific Ocean.
But the relationship between the USA and Asia goes beyond military tensions. The peoples of Asian countries and America have come a long way since the ping-pong tournaments and panda-ox swaps of Nixon’s presidency. The USA and China produce one of the world’s strongest economic partnerships. Students from both sides of the Pacific take the long flight across the ocean to study. In the twenty-first century, the international scene is increasingly focused not on the Atlantic but on the Pacific, as President Roosevelt predicted long ago. Being a “Pacific Power” means exploring this enormous, peaceful potential through people-to-people relations.
President Nixon concluded his departure remarks in Hawaii by declaring his wish that “this greatest of oceans can truly be what its name portends – a sea of peace for all peoples.” A closer relationship between the USA, China, and other nations of the Pacific will ensure the US can play a large part in making sure that the Pacific is an ocean of peace, as President Nixon desired.