Posts Tagged ‘obama administration asia’
While U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel his visit to Asia later this month for the second time last Friday is understandable, its impacts are nonetheless severe.
He will miss the opportunity to travel to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, as well as Australia, and Guam.
With the Gulf of Mexico crisis still brewing and anger at his lackluster response still growing, news of the cancellation was only a matter of time. No U.S. president would risk leaving the country for Asia under these circumstances.
Yet the damage to Mr. Obama’s Asia policy is nonetheless considerable. Mr. Obama, America’s self-declared “first Asia-Pacific president”, who said the U.S. was “back” in Asia after eight years of alleged neglect by the Bush administration, and whose secretary of state Hillary Clinton insisted that “half of diplomacy is showing up”, now has to eat humble pie. Showing up, as it were, is easier said than done. This missed opportunity, needless to say, will stoke lingering doubts about the importance of the U.S. to Asia – however unfair that may seem.
That perception shift is not without its effects. Mr. Obama’s plans to transform the U.S. relationship with Indonesia have been derailed. Furthermore, as Ernest Bower over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Southeast Asia program writes:
At a time when the nations of the region have serious questions about how far they want to go in reacting to China’s charm offensive, the apparent lack of U.S. focus will make the region’s leaders feel anxious and unbalanced. If not corrected in the near future, it may also send them thinking about strategic alternatives, which could influence thinking about regional structures. Is the United States really ready to be part of the East Asia Summit? What if the president of the United States doesn’t show for summit meetings?
Mr. Bower also notes that in order to avoid a repeat of this in the future, U.S. presidents must have the courage to explain to Americans why foreign commitments are equally important as domestic imperatives:
The factor that must be addressed to prevent this situation from becoming endemic is that leaders—in this case, President Obama—must have the courage to explain to Americans why traveling to countries like Indonesia, the fourth-largest nation in the world, and Australia, a treaty ally and critical friend, is as important to our country’s economy and national security as an oil spill in the Gulf. He must explain that he needs to follow through on plans to develop ties with these countries while he manages the Gulf situation using technology and his team.
Though this is something most Asia watchers, including myself, would like to see, I doubt any U.S. president would be willing to stake his or her popularity to prove this (important) point, particularly on a trip to Asia.
Meanwhile, the shape of the rest of Mr. Obama’s Asia schedule this year still remains in doubt. Will he attend a series of ASEAN leaders’ meetings in Hanoi in late October, including the Fifth East Asian Summit and the second U.S.-ASEAN Summit, which he himself inaugurated last year? If visits can be canceled in order to push through healthcare or plug an oil spill, then they almost surely won’t take precedence over the domestic arena so close to November’s mid-term elections. As I’ve written earlier, I doubt Mr. Obama’s advisers would let him out of the country during such a critical time.
And where will he fit the Indonesia, Australia and Guam trips in? Some say November alongside visits to South Korea and Japan in November for the Fifth G-20 Summit and the 18th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting respectively, although the recent addition of a trip to India may make the schedule too tight.
To Mr. Obama’s credit, the White House press release does say that he plans to hold full bilateral meetings with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the margins of the G-20 meeting in Canada later this month.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a huge disappointment for U.S. engagement efforts in Asia.