Will shortened Obama trip to Asia buoy China?

Some in the region argue that the cancellation of key stops signals the fading of Obama's 'pivot to Asia' – and opens a door for greater Chinese influence.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, right, talks to Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, upon arriving at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. Xi is making his first visit to Southeast Asia since taking office, arriving Wednesday in Indonesia to boost ties and economic partnerships with the region's biggest country.

President Obama’s trimming of stops on a trip to Asia this month has raised questions locally about the US government’s two-year-old rebalancing of resources to the region, a shift embraced by allies such as Japan and the Philippines as their common rival China looms larger. 

Following a partial shutdown of the federal government this week, the president put off visits with heads of state in Malaysia and the Philippines. He is still evaluating whether to attend economic events in two other Asian countries.

Malaysia and the Philippines have expressed understanding about the change, but regional analysts say the cancellations send a message that the US president doesn’t care, and could shore up support for China.

“Malaysia's kind of ‘whatever,’ but missing the Philippines hurts, as Manila’s been such a key cog in America's Asia pivot wheel,” says Sean King, senior vice president with the political consulting firm Park Strategies in New York and Taipei, Taiwan. “It’s a lost opportunity for sure.”

More broadly, Asian governments, including staunch US allies Japan and South Korea, may take Mr. Obama’s thinned-down trip as a new sign that his rebalancing, or pivot, to Asia is fading after other hints that the world’s biggest continent is no longer such high priority.

Asian countries unsure about the pivot will work more directly with China, analysts say. That shift would help the clout of Asia’s top military and economic powerhouse, whose leadership still takes a dim view of Washington’s geopolitical ambitions.

“This return to Asia cannot last forever, because of US domestic economic and political uncertainties,” says Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. “These [Asian] neighbors must recalibrate. They’ll do it gradually and in a new direction.”

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed the pivot to Asia in 2011 to strengthen military and economic alliances, a shift believed aimed at checking the rise of China’s power. China has protested the pivot to US officials.

Ms. Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, appeared to question the rebalancing earlier this year during his confirmation hearing, and now experts say Mr. Obama’s hand has been forced: Even if he wishes to focus on Asia, US political gridlock and conflicts in the Middle East are demanding his attention.

Division in Congress over national healthcare insurance led to missing a deadline to fund the government, shutting down federal services Tuesday for the first time in 17 years. The White House says Mr. Obama scaled back his Asia trip as a result.

Mr. Kerry will go in the president’s place to Malaysia and the Philippines. The president is still studying whether to keep scheduled appearances this month at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Indonesia and a Southeast Asian leadership event in Brunei.

Perceptions of a pullback from the pivot could prompt southeastern Asian nations like Vietnam to work more closely with China. Vietnam, though distrustful of Beijing, is talking more often with China, Mr. Lin notes.

That would set a trend, experts say, delighting Beijing as it gets a leg up on Washington in forging ties with neighbors that turn to the United States when leery of the communist country’s expansion.

“China is sort of saying ‘we’re pretty confident in what we’re doing,’ ” says Carl Baker, director of programs with the US-based think tank Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Will shortened Obama trip to Asia buoy China?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today