2015 Asia Update: The Trends and What They Mean for America

Report Asia

2015 Asia Update: The Trends and What They Mean for America

December 31, 2015 9 min read Download Report

Authors: Walter Lohman, John Fleming and Olivia Enos

The Asian Studies Center

America's Commitment to the Pacific

Previous editions of this product have illustrated America’s resident power status in Asia and the continuing, critical importance of its commitment to leadership there. They have sought to demonstrate in graphic fashion what is at stake for the U.S. from the economy to security to human liberty.

This year’s edition takes a step back and looks at the trends in these areas over the past 10 years to better understand how American interests are faring.

It is a mixed picture.

China’s rise and the challenges that it presents dominates the regional political, economic, and security environment. This rise, however, takes place as part of a dynamic broadly characterized by economic integration, geopolitical stability, and contested standards in areas of economic and political governance. America’s success in managing its interests in Asia, to include the “China challenge,” depends on this broader dynamic. It needs to deepen the first, maintain the second, and tilt the latter two toward liberalism.

Despite recent speed bumps, China’s economy continues to outpace the region in growth. China’s outward-bound investment continues to expand, and, over time, it has maintained a steady share of investment in U.S. government debt. It is also becoming a larger investor in the American domestic economy. The rest of the region, however, is not going away. Japan, while underperforming for many years in terms of economic growth, also invests heavily both in the government services the U.S. provides its citizens and the private American economy.

Others, like Hong Kong and Singapore, remain steady, free-market economic models.

Regarding liberal governance, the region is gaining, though very slowly. Setbacks in former democracies such as Thailand and general inertia in many other autocracies nearly balance out progress in places like Burma. Religious persecution is also stubbornly persistent, and press freedom has generally declined over the past 10 years.

Geopolitically, the region remains relatively stable, with the U.S. security presence the principle guarantor of that stability. However, terrorism, the fragility of key states, and territorial disputes remain long-term problems.

Many regional trends are heartening and there is reason to redouble efforts to effectuate positive, liberty-enhancing change. This year’s edition illustrates the enduring need for American leadership to forge and protect a regional order that will sustain America’s long-term interests.


Defining the Region



The World's Fastest-Growing Economies Are in Asia





The Most Economically Free Nations in the World Are in Asia





Japan Is Largest Asian Investor in the U.S.





China’s Outward Investments and Contracts Are Expanding





China, Japan Hold Most U.S. Debt Among Asian Nations





Fertility Rates in Asia Challenge Societies





More Workers Support Young and Old in Most of Asia





Three Nations Are Source of Majority of Asian Legal Immigrants to U.S.





Many Nations Are Heavily Reliant on Remittances





Freedom in Asia Is Mixed, but Gaining Ground





Freedom of the Press in Asia Wanes over Past Decade





Religious Persecution in Asia Persists





Asian Governments Are Becoming Increasingly Fragile





Pakistan and Afghanistan Are Common Sites for Terrorist Attacks





Territorial Disputes Endure: China, India, and Southeast Asia





Area of Dispute: South China Sea





America’s Forward-Deployed Military Is Key to Regional Stability





U.S. Allies Japan and South Korea Host Bulk of America’s Military in Asia





China’s Military Continues Rapid Growth





India and China Are Asia’s Biggest Players in Arms Market








 Walter Lohman
Walter Lohman

Former Director, Asian Studies Center

John Fleming
John Fleming

Manager, Data Graphics Services

Olivia Enos
Olivia Enos

Former Senior Policy Analyst, Asian Studies Center