US security has helped Asian growth: Rubio

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for CNBC.com
US Senator Marco Rubio embarks on Asia trip
US Senator Marco Rubio embarks on Asia trip

U.S. foreign policy and policing of Asia has helped its economic miracle, Senator Marco Rubio told CNBC on his first trip to the Asian Pacific region.

"I think it's important to remind everyone that much of the progress that's been made economically in the region is directly attributable to the U.S. security arrangement that's created the stability in the region that has allowed the free flow of commerce and information," the Republican U.S. senator from the state of Florida told CNBC.

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Rubio is travelling throughout the region to raise his profile and burnish his foreign policy credentials for a possible run at the White House. While giving the U.S. credit for Asia's development may raise eyebrows in the region, Rubio's interpretation of the U.S. role was "probably about right in terms of providing a foundation for stable growth in north-east Asia," said Tony Nash, vice-president at consultancy IHS.

"It did in the post (World War II) era provide stable growth," enabling the next phase of development from agriculture to manufacturing, he added. But from there "obviously, they've taken over on their own. The initial political stability has been less of a factor."

However south-east Asia is a bit of a different story," Nash added, noting that the U.S. hasn't really had a security presence in the region.

"Southeast Asia is also a lot of former colonies and over that period, they've done a lot of work to develop their own identities and their own political structures," Nash said.

Rubio's tour of Asia is set to include Japan, South Korea and the Philippines; he is not expected to visit Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos, countries that were caught up in U.S.-led military actions during the 1960s and 1970s.

"This is a critical part of the world," Rubio told CNBC. "The rebalanced Asia is a bipartisan concept and one we look forward to building on."

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President Obama has indicated he wants to "pivot" U.S. foreign policy attention and resources toward Asia amid concerns about balancing China's rising strategic influence.

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While many believe Rubio is likely to be among the Republican Party's field of contenders for the presidential nomination – especially in the wake of scandals over alleged abuses of power by another one-time contender New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the senator was vague about his intentions.

"At this time next year, I'll have to make a decision about something like that," he said.

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While the U.S. Congress successfully passed a bipartisan spending bill, preventing a recurrence of last year's standoff which shut down the government for 16 days, Rubio doesn't appear to expect a more conciliatory Washington ahead.

"We're going to continue to have very vibrant debates," he said. "I think primarily you'll see the issue of debt and spending, which is a real problem in the United States in terms of providing the kind of certainty that investors are looking for and the kind of investment that we need to create the sort of growth that the U.S. desperately needs for our economy to create more jobs and opportunity," he said.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (left) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) prior to their talks at Abe's office in Tokyo on January 21, 2014. Rubio, a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in Japan for talks with Japanese officials.
Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images

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However, while he didn't rule out possible cooperation between the two deeply divided political parties, he didn't say he believed he could help the groups reach agreement.

"I've never claimed to be the one who can pull anyone together. I have an agenda that I think is good for the United States," he said. "On many of these issues, there'll be partisan debates, but on many of them there doesn't necessarily need to be a partisan debate."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1