Thaw seen as US bid to raise profile in region

The softening of relations with New Zealand is part of an American strategy aimed at increasing the United States' influence in the Asia-Pacific region, a Palmerston North audience has been told.

Professor James McCormick, of Iowa State University, gave a Fulbright lecture at Palmerston North City Library last night to about 50 people.

His topic was the impact the American election result would have on that country's foreign policy, his conclusion being that the country would further shift its focus, both economic and military, to the Asia-Pacific region.

Changing the priorities of US foreign policy from its previous Euro-centric outlook would be one of the legacies of President Barack Obama's tenure in the White House, if he could pull it off, Prof McCormick said.

"The administration announced in late 2011 and into January 2012 this sort of pivot in America's foreign policy towards Asia."

This was evident in the bilateral and multilateral co-operation and trade agreements the US was forging with countries in the region.

Prof McCormick said those moves were in response to the growing economic importance of the Asian region as well as a counter to China's growing presence on the world stage.

In New Zealand this meant more co-operation between the countries' militaries, visits by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the signing of the Washington and Wellington declarations, he said.

It also meant that as the US faced financial pressures at home it was more likely to call on its partners in the region for assistance should it be needed, Prof McCormick said.

He also talked about the US Electoral College system, which determines who would be president, and why President Obama won the election held two weeks ago.

"The idea of the electoral system was that the president would be more representative of the country as a whole," he said.

While theoretically a candidate could be elected by winning as few as 11 states, in practice they needed to win almost or more than half to be elected.

"In some ways the genius of the electoral system is [that] a candidate must win across the country."

President Obama won because he had a better-organised campaign that was able to target key demographics such as female, Latino and African-American voters, he said.

Manawatu Standard