President Barack Obama’s decision to scrap his Asia trip is a setback for his much-advertised pledge to shift the focus of foreign policy to the Pacific and a boost for
By staying home because of the partial government shutdown, Obama hands new Chinese leader Xi Jinping a chance to fill the void at two Asian summits Obama had planned to attend. It’s the third time since 2010 that Obama has cancelled an
trip, all because of domestic political crises.
Secretary of State John Kerry will represent him at the summits in
Budget strains had already put a damper on the Pentagon’s push to assert itself in the Pacific, and administration officials had begun casting the shift in policy more in terms of expanding diplomatic efforts, creating more trade and economic ties and just showing up in Asia more often.
Now the showing up part has taken a hit.
Syria crisis is only the latest example of how
Obama’s foreign policy is still drawn to the Middle East.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Asia last month when Washington
was drawn to the brink of military intervention before agreed to
give up its chemical weapons arsenal, diverting Hagel’s attention. Syria
The situation works for
, which is
rapidly modernizing its armed forces and boosting its regional influence. Xi
has been visiting China Indonesia
and Malaysia this week to improve
reputation at a time when its aggressive stance on territorial issues has
strained ties with some countries in southeast Asia. Beijing ’s acute political paralysis gives
Xi a freer hand to become the big presence in the room. Washington
“It shows that
China has a functional government and America doesn’t at the moment,” said Kerry
Brown, a China expert at the
University of Sydney
“It’s just another sign that Australia
is kind of losing its luster, losing its status.” America
In announcing Obama’s decision Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the government shutdown is “setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of
U.S. exports and advance leadership
and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.” U.S.
Even so, he said, Obama is committed “to the rebalancing of our policy” toward the Asia-Pacific and looks forward to going at another time. Obama has made five trips to
Asia as president.
earlier this week, lawmakers applauded after Xi became the first foreign leader
to address Parliament — this in a country where Obama lived as a child. Xi’s
call for greater cooperation began with an informal greeting in the local
Bahasa Indonesian language — a rare display of oratorical skill for a Chinese
Then Xi went to
he and his wife met Prime Minister Najib Razak and received a ceremonial
welcome at Parliament on Friday that included a military honor guard and 21-gun
Indonesia, Xi signed deals worth billions of
dollars, while in ,
he agreed to boost military cooperation and training to fight transnational
crime and terrorism. Malaysia
Experts in Asia said Obama’s no-show weakens
leadership globally. US
“If they can furlough jobs, cease government services and risk a downgrade in the country’s credit rating, American politicians may start finding it tough to be consistent in their political reassurances about
commitment toward faraway Asia,” wrote Simon
Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Retired U.S. Adm. Dennis Blair, a former head of US Pacific Command, played down the impact of Obama’s cancellation and said the visit could wait until Obama can give the region his full attention.
has been here in this region in a major economic, diplomatic, military and
influential way ever since 1944 and that situation has not changed,” he said. United States
Still, the cancellation has been particularly disappointing to Southeast Asian nations that look to the
U.S. as a counterweight in
their disputes with China
over the South China Sea. The Philippines, for example, has turned to the US to build up its ill-equipped defense forces
during this time of acrimonious rifts with in disputed waters. China
Hagel and his predecessor, Leon Panetta, have made frequent visits to the Asia-Pacific region since 2011 in a signal of the importance of the military dimensions of the Obama administration’s
The most visible sign of
Washington’s military shift toward Asia and the Pacific
may be the rotational deployment of about 250 Marines to northern . The
Pentagon also is arranging more exercises with partners in the region and has
deployed the USS Freedom, the first in a new class of smaller combat vessels,
to Australia .
It also is shoring up relations with long-time allies such as
while exploring deeper ties to old enemies like Vietnam,
and has opened negotiations with the Philippines
to increase the
military presence there. US
Still, the refocus to
Asia seems more sluggish than was envisioned.
“The administration has found themselves in a rhetorical box; they have committed themselves to a rebalancing, or a pivot, without fully understanding what they would have to do to make a material difference in America’s position,” said Michael Auslin, director of Japan studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.