President Obama has announced that he will go ahead with his visit to Asia next week, however, the itinerary just got shorter. Malaysia and the Philippines have been taken off the trip schedule. While this might seem like a minor development amid larger events in DC, this is a major blow to Obama’s efforts to strengthen ties in S.E. Asian countries and to build up an alliance to curb rising Chinese influence in the region.
Obama’s travels could be shortened even further
It is possible that Obama’s travels could be shortened even further or even canceled all-together in the days to come. The administration is now considering dropping the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and another summit in Brunei in order to save cash. Attending these meetings has been previously viewed as vital to Obama’s efforts to forge stronger ties with Asia.
With Europe stagnating and Latin America growing increasingly willing to challenge American foreign policy, the United States has been shifting towards Asia. Given the breakneck growth rates being seen across the region, and the rise of a wealthy regional middle class, Asia now offers perhaps the best chance to secure economic growth. The APEC summit has been viewed as a vital opportunity to reach out to Asian nations and to forge stronger economic and political ties.
Now, Obama’s attendance of this summit is in jeopardy due to the government shutdown in DC. This goes to illustrate how the shutdown could have long-lasting effects that could potentially cost billions of dollars in lost economic growth and opportunity. While it is possible that the Obama administration can recover after this snafu, at the very least it is a major international embarrassment in a region now seen as vital to America’s future prosperity.
Obama has made the “Asia Pivot”
Obama has made the “Asia Pivot” the center piece of his foreign policy initiatives. With Chinese power quickly rising in the region, the United States has sought to reposition military assets in Asia and to build up stronger alliances with China’s neighbors. By doing so, the United States hopes to both play a pivotal role in shaping the environment in Asia and to curb Chinese influence.
Yet the ongoing government shutdown, which has shuttered numerous government agencies and furloughed nearly a million federal workers, is making it difficult for Obama to keep his international engagements. According to the administration, it simply was not possible to muster up the personnel necessary to visit the Philippines and Malaysia.
This development will provide further ammo to the Chinese, who have been working hard to convince emerging nations and Asian nations that it is now a world superpower to be respected. Indeed, across the region, numerous opinion polls of Asian citizens now believe that China is more important than the United States.
It will also force Asian nations to question whether the United States is as serious about the Asia pivot as claimed. Many Asian nations are welcoming increased American presence in the region as a way to curb rising Chinese influence. Already, however, Secretary of State John Kerry has been accused of abandoning the region in favor of Middle East politics. Now, Obama’s move to shorten his travels to the vital region will only increase perceptions that the United States will not be backing up its big words with action. This could be a costly mistake that the United States will pay for for years to come.