by Thomas J. Ward, Vice President for Internationalization, Dean of the College of Public and International Affairs
On Wednesday, April 1, 2015, the University of Bridgeport’s College of Public and International Affairs (CPIA) was pleased to host the United States Department of State’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Tong of the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Commercial Affairs. With seventeen years of experience in Asia, Secretary Tong spoke authoritatively on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its implications for the Asia-Pacific Rim.
Secretary Tong, who served as United States Ambassador to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and as a member of the National Security Council where he served as Director of East Asian Economic Affairs, noted that the United States’ economy, among the nations of the Pacific Rim, was experiencing one of the most significant economic booms. He also recognized the ongoing economic surge of China as well as those of several of the neighboring nations.
Secretary Tong stressed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership can serve as a way to assure that the American brand – i.e., America’s proven ethical, economic, and commercial principles and practices – would remain part and parcel of the region’s ongoing development.
The TPP will institutionalize guidelines for protecting children’s rights and women’s rights, minimizing unfair labor practices, and also allow for organized labor to be part of the region’s economic playing field.
Secretary Tong’s insightful presentation sparked a variety of questions from the audience on topics such as the role that TPP might play or not play in promoting sustainable development, allowing for technology and medical advances to reach less developed countries through expediting the process for making such products affordable in less developed countries in the region. Likewise, there were several questions related to China’s recent initiatives to play a more central role in the region’s development, including its creation of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB).
Secretary Tong affirmed the United States’ commitment to economic development initiatives that assure sustainability. He observed that, in so many ways, China is a friend of the United States, although areas of fundamental disagreement exist. As an example, he cited American versus Chinese views on the free flow of information.
Secretary Tong views the US-China partnership as a crucial one and noted that China has recently even expressed greater openness to eventually becoming a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“It is nice to hear from a representative of the State Department who responded to our questions so willingly and thoroughly. It was great,” said Caitlin Olson, a former Peace Corps member and graduate student in the Global Development and Peace program.
Secretary Tong appreciated the level of engagement and interest that students had in the subject matter of his talk. The State Department has expressed an interest in doing outreach efforts at the University of Bridgeport on a more regular basis in the future.