Obama’s unfinished business in Asia


September 8, 2016

by The Editorial Board, New York Times

Image result for Obama In Laos

President Barack Obama in Laos–Farewell Asia–Thank You, Mr. President

Laos provided fitting closure to President Obama’s 11th official trip to Asia, which ends Thursday. The stop, the first by an American president, acknowledged the devastation caused by American bombing during the Vietnam War and the millions of unexploded bombs that remained in Laos after the war. That visit and the Asian tour was the last of Mr. Obama’s broad efforts to strengthen engagements with countries in the region.

There is significant unfinished business in Mr. Obama’s Asia policy, including the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that appears gridlocked in Washington and an expanding North Korean nuclear weapons program that he and other world leaders have failed to halt.

But Mr. Obama has made headway in reassuring Asian nations that the United States intends to remain a stabilizing presence in the region, as it has been for decades, and to serve as a counterweight to China’s growing power and increasing assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea.

In addition to opening a new chapter with Laos, Mr. Obama established relations with Myanmar when the former military dictatorship of that country agreed to move toward a democratic system. Ties were expanded and an arms embargo against Vietnam was dropped. New agreements on military bases for American forces were negotiated with the Philippines and Australia.

Building on work done by the Clinton and Bush administrations, Mr. Obama has brought Indian-American relations to a new level of cooperation, culminating in last month’s defense agreement, which had been under negotiation for a decade. The United States has vastly expanded military exercises with most of these countries as well as expanding its sale of weapons, including a missile defense system to South Korea.

All of this took hard diplomatic work, but the driving force pushing these countries into closer ties with America has been China’s growing military capabilities and its brazen efforts to claim most of the South China Sea as its own, transforming reefs and rocks into artificial islands with airstrips and military structures.

When Mr. Obama took office, he hoped to cooperate with China on solving global problems. By 2011, China’s more aggressive posture and a belief that America’s economic future lay in Asia led the Obama administration to announce plans to intensify engagement with other Asian nations. As the South China Sea tensions have heated up, the administration has played a restraining role in defending America’s commitment to freedom of navigation by sending warships into that strategic waterway. It has also urged China and other claimant countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, to work out a peaceful solution, but serious provocations by China continue.

In some instances where interests converge, China and the United States have made important contributions, including working together on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and formally committing to ratifying the Paris accord on climate change.

As he prepares to leave office, there is little expectation that Mr. Obama will be able to end the threat from North Korea, which is now estimated to have enough fissile material for as many as 21 nuclear weapons. China, the North’s main food and fuel supplier, refuses to apply the kind of pressure that might make a difference. There are other concerns about Mr. Obama’s policy, including his playing down of human rights issues in China and Laos and his willingness to sell more weapons to Asia, which risks a new arms race.

Mr. Obama and most Asian leaders believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, by promoting deeper economic ties with other member nations, is central to his Asia policy. And despite opposition from both presidential candidates and many lawmakers, administration officials believe they will be able to persuade Congress to approve it.

Regardless of whether that happens, China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea will increasingly dominate the future of the region and will present a complicated challenge for Mr. Obama’s successor to manage.

4 thoughts on “Obama’s unfinished business in Asia

  1. Did Najib sent an indirect equivalent of the finger gesture to Obama and US by discussing publicly his conversation with Duterte? All it did was reveal what a freaking slime and liar to everyone including Obama, US and Duterte. Duterte, who is in deep crap, better be careful in using a slimeball to send any messages to anyone.

  2. I am a Jill Stein, a US presidential candidate, supporter. Following her ideal, US should stop being the policeman of the world, which our pragmatic Obama doctrine supposedly carry a lot of the same spirit also. But, what Obama was never willing to let go is the issue he had with China. His early campaign as a Presidential candidate is to call for US to stop sending all of its wealth to China and Middle East, easily portraying half of the world’s population as US’s economic enemy. At the end of his eight years term, Mr President seems to be able to resolve the issue with the later region not through a clean energy revolution, but agreeing to opening up the entire fracking business in US, in which he very well knows is not entirely environmentally friendly.
    This actually go against his own firm believe that environmental issue is his first priority that he owes humanity as the leader of United States.

    On the earlier issue with China and outsourcing, he was not able to convince anyone in Congress and Senate to agree on TPPA, before he goes on to coerce various small nations into a very bad deal as suggested by Nobel prize winning Economist, and to propagate the continuation of racist policies and legitimizing corrupt regimes like the one currently lead by MO1.

    Obama did not leave any unfinished business in Asia. He merely started some hanky panky business before he leaves. With that being said, I am thankful for US’s presence before all of the Southeast Asian nations is being thrown into a lot as a colony of Emperor Xi.

    The unfinished business is for us Southeast Asians to stand up and govern ourselves right, much in the spirit of what Nobel peace prize winner Mr President Obama said to the Muslim community that Muslims need to stop blaming the liberal West for any misgivings. In the same spirit, perhaps, it is time for US to “stop doing stupid shit” to unnecessarily allow an unwelcome Emperor Xi portrayed a well meaning United States as an enemy of Xi’s kingdom. People of both nations are currently being fed unnecessary poison as weak politicians are looking up ways to shore up support for their own weakening position.

    Obama should probably not allow his days in Indonesia (given the time how Indonesia had to recover from Sukarno-Suharto battle then) cloud his vision on the possibility of a different China and a different Asia.

    There is only an unfunished Obama business in Asia if the next US President choose to continue doing stupid shit.

    I am of the camp that Emperor Xi’s kingdom would implode quicker, if let alone. After then, there could be a China my great grandfather would be proud of come about.
    Many fought a battle to topple the Qing dynasty not to be replaced by another Emperor.

  3. The last time I remember US intervened in Asia purportedly relying on the ‘domino theory’ -1 million Vietnamese died, 98,000 marines were killed, Agent Orange ( chemical warfare) was sprayed on millions-who are still suffering the aftermath, Laos was bombed illegally -ruin,hardship and the economy in the region was rolled back including democracy. Vietnam defeated the US. The Hmong people who served America are still on the run, being persecuted.

    Prudent to note: the war was fought in Southeast Asia.

    Southeast Asia does not forget easily. The South China Sea dispute must be settled by Asian states. A third party cannot resolve disputes between neighbors. Another war will destroy the economy of ASEAN. The Middle Man has not been able to settle the Middle -east dispute for decades, they wont be able to resolve the problem in Southeast Asia. Caveat emptor. The US foreign policy should change-after failures in the Korea war, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen,Syria…enough is enough. Peace is better than war. The military Industrial Complex is the only person to gain. The big stick and the carrot is nonsense. The big stick cannot stop the menace of terrorism.

  4. ‘A third party cannot resolve disputes between neighbors.’

    Huh? What’s the Police, Local Authorities, Fire Brigade, Lawyers-Judiciary etc for then? Play tic-tac-toe?

    Nah, Taikor is and shall be. All they need is an excuse, like an ‘accidental’ Pearl Harbor scenario. In case, you haven’t been in the loop kindly refer to James, Scarborough and the many lil’ shoals which are underwater most of the time or the puffer fish that has be cemented on ‘artificial’ islands.

    How else to get rid of about-to-expire-by-dates munitions or to test out their new hardware? It’s nothing to do with the Military-Industrial Complex, but disassembling..

    And S.E Asians are actually mudah lupa. Ask the Cambodians, Vietnamese, Laotians and especially the Malays. The phrase Kiasi-Kiasu and Face-Water is very East Asian though.. Obama has the hide of an elephant, but American lives are terribly expensive compared to us Asiatics. Kill ratio is 1:20,000.

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