Reinforce Regional Institutions
With so many overlapping regional institutions in East Asia, there is little need for new ones. Yet, the existing bodies need to become more effective. The United States can help strengthen these institutions in three ways.
First, the United States must continue to embrace ASEAN centrality. This does not mean that ASEAN should abandon its lowest-common-denom- inator principles of consensus and neutrality. Instead, it means that ASEAN should remain the central organiser for security dialogues in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration has gone a long way in the past four years to recognise the importance of ASEAN, both as an organisation of 10 Southeast Asian states and as a facilitator of larger regional discussions. The decision to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation meant that the president of the United States would now join other regional leaders at an annual meeting, combined with the variety of other senior-level and mid-level dialogues leading up to that East Asia Summit. Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials need to maintain active US engagement with ASEAN
Second, the United States should work with ASEAN members and other regional states to support an independent survey of land features in the East and South China Seas. A systematic survey could help to clarify major issues regarding geographical features, including narrowing down the roughly 140 in the South China Sea large enough to justify their own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to a mere dozen or so.19 Though all parties might not agree on the outcome, such an objective, technical study could provide a good basis for future cooperation among those who do agree. Because islands deserving their own 200-nautical-mile EEZ would create the largest overlapping claims, reducing their number would focus diplomacy on a finite set of geographical features rather than all of them, thereby making it easier for claimant states to cooperate on freedom of navigation and joint development
Third, the United States should move decisively forward, by completing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with expanding the economic and trade dimensions of its rebalancing policy. Commerce is ultimately the main shared interest in the region, and even when it is competitive it less dangerous than military issues. With Japanese Prime Minister Abe's decision to join negotiations for the TPP, the burgeoning trade agreement finally has some wind beneath its sails. If necessary, the United
States and the other 11 nations currently negotiating initial rules for the TPP should set aside those few issues that remain too difficult to resolve to ensure that they fulfil their goal of concluding "a next-generation, comprehensive" trade and investment agreement (OUSTR 2013).20