Obama's travel plans show China isn't only game in town
Published: Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 5:33 p.m.
President Barack Obama’s trip to Myanmar is a gift from the photo-opportunity gods. The sight of the U.S. president standing beside political-prisoner-turned-Nobel-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon will be a heart-warming moment for a world yearning for good news.
The most remarkable thing about Obama’s first trip abroad since his re-election is his itinerary. During the four-day journey that starts
The obvious motivation for the route is to drum up new markets for corporate America with U.S.-led regional trade talks. Less obvious is telling Southeast Asia that for the United States, China isn’t the only game in town. It is a show of support not just for Myanmar’s opening but for nations that may be future democratic bulwarks in a region awash in authoritarianism.
That is surely how many in China see Obama’s journey, and he shouldn’t be reluctant to own that message. China’s belligerent behavior has unnerved other Asian nations, prompting their leaders to put out a large welcome mat for the U
Obama’s Asia pivot has paid dividends. When he took office in 2009, Suu Kyi was locked up, trade negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand were stalled and the U
Asia has all too few strong and creative leaders to articulate its aspirations and where it wants to be in 20 years. It is telling that the most potent words uttered about Asia
This leadership vacuum means Asia’s disputes and challenges fester from one generation to the next. It allows a crafty and ambitious power like China to wrap its tentacles around the future. How does one respond to a rising military power that sees hegemony as its due and expects smaller nations to pay it tribute with undying loyalty and access to natural resources while an undervalued yuan hurts them economically?
Japan’s territorial claims also heighten tensions. The prospect of former premier and nationalist Shinzo Abe returning to the job next month after a national election won’t calm nerves. But it is hard to exaggerate how China’s actions are rattling the Asian neighborhood. That is part of the subtext surrounding Obama’s stop in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the first by a U.S. leader.
Myanmar will lead the headline parade as Obama meets with Suu Kyi, as powerful a democratic figure as our modern world has. The Chinese won’t like it. Nor will they like Obama bonding with President Thein Sein, the driving force behind Myanmar’s glasnost and a man willing to stand up to China’s leaders. He enraged China last year by scrapping a huge hydroelectric-dam project amid popular discontent. Nor has he tried to muzzle a recently freed press when it reports on a backlash against natural resources flowing to China.
In Bangkok, Obama is expected to secure Thai entry into a U.S.-led trade pact set up in opposition to China. It would be the 12th country to join negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s top trade priority. In Cambodia, Obama will speak at the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh to press his case that America increasingly views itself as a Pacific nation.
It’s a decent start for Obama’s second term but hardly enough. There has rarely been a better time for the U
William Pesek is a
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