Much has been made of the U.S. relationship with China and the "pivot" toward Asia in our nation's foreign policy focus. While our relationship with China is certainly a complicated one, like it or not we are intertwined with one another as the world's two largest economies, and 1 billion potential consumers cannot be ignored. In fact, given just how interconnected the world is, our economy and our national security depend on the United States being actively engaged around the globe.
The future of our own economy is in the global marketplace, and particularly in the developing world. Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers are outside of our borders, and America's competitors are actively working to access these markets in favor of their own interests. So should we.
Over the past decade, China has emerged as a major player in Africa with trade volume between them expected to exceed $200 billion this year. In order for American businesses to stay competitive, the United States must be actively engaged overseas to create environments where our commerce can thrive, and that requires effective tools of diplomacy and development.
Last year, Florida exported nearly $65 billion in goods and services around the world, and trade supports one in five jobs here in the Sunshine State. This will only continue to rise, as the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods and services are in the developing world. Our access to these markets is critical to growing our economy at home.
Having served as a U.S. senator and a diplomat, and in the Marine Corps, we know all too well the threats facing our nation today are not the clear-cut state enemies we faced in the past. Faceless terrorism, pandemic disease and political instability all threaten our national security. And while our armed forces are second to none, these threats cannot be met by military force alone. Elevating our civilian tools of development and diplomacy alongside defense stabilizes weak and fragile states and prevents conflict before it begins. This not only cuts down on the costs of expensive wars, but more importantly saves the lives of our brave men and women in uniform.
While our development and diplomatic programs work to further America's interests, they also demonstrate the values we hold dear as Americans — hope, compassion, generosity and upholding human dignity. Whether it is lifting people out of abject poverty or combating the tragedy of HIV/AIDS in Africa or alleviating human suffering after the earthquake in Haiti and tsunami in Indonesia, we can be proud of our leadership in helping those in need around the world.
We face unprecedented challenges in today's world, but also unmatched opportunities. Our international affairs programs go a long way in keeping us safe and opening doors for economic growth at home. And at just one percent of our federal budget, this is a cost-effective investment in our future.
How effective is this investment? Just consider the crucial role assistance from the United States played in Japan's economic development and democratization following World War II. And South Korea was an aid recipient 60 years ago. Now, both countries are aid donors, key American allies, and important markets for U.S. companies.
Tonight we look forward to a discussion on the relationship between the United States and China at the Tampa Bay Area Committee on Foreign Relations. How we engage with China and the rest of the world will determine our future. America's global leadership is critical to our national and economic security. It's one way we can build a better, safer, more prosperous world.
Jim Sasser represented Tennessee in the Senate from 1977 to 1995 and served as ambassador to China from 1996 to 1999. Lt. Gen. Martin Steele (Ret.) served over 30 years in the Marine Corps and as director of Strategic Planning and Policy, U.S. Forces Pacific, from 1995 to 1997, and is currently at the University of South Florida. Both are advisers to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.