Speech of President of the Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint

Conserving the Promise of Freedom in Asia

Date: May 12, 2014
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Venue: The Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (IDIA), Taipei 

In the speech “Conserving the Promise of Freedom in Asia,” Jim DeMint, the current president of the Heritage Foundation and former U.S. senator and representative for South Carolina, provides a conservative perspective on the values shared among America’s Asian allies that in turn shape American leadership, the threats that these values face, as well as insightful ideas on the policies that can help overcome these threats and conserve the promise of freedom in Asia.
DeMint begins by quoting the British writer and philosopher G.K. Chesterton that “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” to explain America’s Asian and global leadership role lie in the understanding of the founding values of America itself. Such creed set forth in the Declaration of Independence indicates that all men are created equal, and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And he states that this national creed proclaiming the rights of all mankind is what inspires America to global leadership.

DeMint then discusses economic freedom, the most important freedom that he considers aside from the fundamental religious liberty, as well as the wherewithal for individuals to exercise other freedoms. He reports that the Index of Economic Freedom demonstrates the correlation between economic freedom and prosperity. Thus, periods of economic stagnation like the U.S. is now facing can be attributed to the under-appreciation of the value of economic freedom. And in fact, several countries in the region, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have all outperformed the U.S at economic freedom.
At home, he observes economic freedom at the micro-level. People from around the globe, including Asia, come to America to embrace economic opportunity and make the most of it for the well-being of themselves and their families. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Taiwanese are among the most successful citizens to be able to attain higher education, own houses and be covered by health insurance. And such success results largely from America’s traditional commitment to economic freedom, even though such commitment is currently threatened by the U.S. policies.

DeMint moves on to talk about three different threats challenging the bonds America has forged with its allies and partners in Asia. The first one is about domestic issues. As no nation would abandon self-governance except under pressure of unfair practices, like corruption and favoritism, that can undermine democracy, he strongly believes that a government excessively involved in the economy hurts economic freedom in general and often becomes a political issue that all democracies may struggle with. As with other differences that divide nations internally, he mentions Taiwan’s recent political turmoil, stating that the Heritage Foundation takes no side in Taiwan’s politics. Though he personally expresses certain discomfort with crowds occupying the Legislative Yuan and the cabinet offices to voice their concerns over the Cross-Strait Trade in Service Agreement, he gives praise to Taiwan as a country trying to work out deep differences peacefully and democratically.

The second threat is the “China factor” in the region. Though being told that China is no longer Marxist today and that communism is all about power but ideology, in DeMint’s opinion, however, communism has always been about power, placing its interests over those of individuals, families and communities, and its ideology has always been contrary to the principles of liberty. Undeniably, China has made remarkable economic transformation since the Mao era, and the Communist Party no longer foments revolutions in the region, yet China today continues to test the limits of America’s commitments to Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia. Understanding Taiwan and China’s complicated political and economic relationship, DeMint says that the Taiwan Relations Act and its support in America serve as a standing response to the doubts, and that the Heritage Foundation takes no position on the cross-strait relationship, only hoping that it can be developed without the coercion of China and with Taiwan’s democratic traditions.
And lastly, the region still comes to terms with history and borders. Between America’s two best allies in Asia, namely Japan and South Korea, divisions and differences still exist. DeMint then states that it is not of the U.S. interest for Japan to be marginalized, for American commitments to Taiwan cannot possibly be fulfilled without Japan’s helping hand.
In response to the threats to those values mentioned above, DeMint offers policy implications that can help iron out difficulties, which are by setting a good example in the U.S., supporting free trade, and supporting and defending the borders of freedom in Asia.
DeMint firmly believes that the U.S. cannot impose principles, though considered universal, on others regarding matters of political freedom. Apart from highlighting abuses of the shared values abroad, preventing tax dollar wastes, and containing despotic regimes, what America can do most for the cause of political liberty is to set the right example of governing at home. Likewise, for the cause of economic freedom, America should rededicate itself to building a proper relationship between the government and its people so as to maintain order, given the current unsustainable level of the U.S. debt accumulated, as well as the unacceptable level of government interference in economy.

As a conservative, DeMint, like other American conservatives, understands the dangers resulted from the confusion of markets and national power, which in turn leads to corruption and conflict when the government interferes with the market’s allocation of assets. And he further emphasizes the notion that guaranteeing America’s freedom will undoubtedly help achieve its national security goals as well.
In addition to domestic reforms, DeMint holds the belief that economic freedom means both the greater openness to international markets and the expansion of international trade. He supports the idea of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as every Free Trade Agreement (FTA), though none of which are perfect, in Congress along with the Heritage Foundation, yet he is also concerned that these free trade agreements may end up achieving regulatory parity rather than freer trade, such as if the TPP imposes regulatory burdens on American business, consists of too many protectionist carve-outs, or weak intellectual property protections. He says he supports the TPP in concept, but the Heritage Foundation will withhold until they can judge how free the agreement itself it is.
In the meantime, the Heritage Foundation suggests the U.S. can unilaterally eliminate tariffs on intermediate goods used by American manufactures, for this will provide them with unfettered access to global value chains, enables business to increase productivity, and eventually realizing the concept of globalization. Also, the U.S. can also fully develop energy resources and allow free natural gas exports worldwide.
Once the right example is set to expand the borders of freedom, the U.S. must also support and defend them. In Asia, American allies and friends are under pressure from a foreign power – China, and the U.S thus must stand together with them in the face of China’s aggressive acts threatening the territorial status quo and regional order. With this cause in mind, DeMint also commends President Obama to reaffirm the U.S treaty commitment to defend Japan and the Philippines during his recent visits, and hopes the administration will remain steadfast.
In addition, DeMint also urges the U.S. to support Taiwan more to be integrated into the broader regional economy, and make available the arms Taiwan needs for its defense. Because the restrictions imposed due to Taiwan’s international relationships have limited Taiwan’s options, the U.S should take the lead in getting Taiwan into the truly liberalizing TPP, and negotiate a bilateral FTA with Taiwan as well. Most importantly, the U.S. needs to maintain its military advantages over the peace disruptors. And regarding the worrying trend of massive defense budget cuts in Washington in the past few years, the U.S. should restructure the federal spending, equips soldiers with the best equipment and training possible, and stay forward-deployed so as to fulfill its strong commitments to Taiwan and its treaty allies.

DeMint concludes by saying that the speech today is to offer an alternative perspective on how the U.S. maintains its commitment to Asia in a way that best conserves the promise of freedom. He makes no secret of the Heritage Foundation opposing many of the President Obama’s policies, for the two simply represent diametrically opposed American traditions. That being said, he is also supportive of the bi-partisan nature of American foreign policy commitment to Asia, and he is proud to be a part of it in leading the Heritage Foundation into a new era.