How did the Obama administration impact Asia?

Pete Souza/White House

Article Highlights

  • How committed is Obama to doing the hard work of properly resourcing military and passing more FTAs?

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  • Most important policies that will affect Asia are happening in the Middle East

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  • China receives message that after exhausting all other options, America stands for freedom

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The best thing the Obama Administration did for Asia did not happen in Asia. Sure it was important that the president announced the movement of troops to Australia.  Equally so was the announcement of the Trans Pacific Partnership which could lead to greater trade liberalization and is a powerful way to tie allies together. Finally the formalization of a trilateral relationship among Japan, India and the United States is a strategically significant move. The problem with these diplomatic strokes is what it always was:  how committed is President Obama to doing the hard work of properly resourcing the military requirements of this strategy and taking on his party to pass more free trade agreements?

These policies in Asia are important. But the Obama policies that will have the most significance for Asia happened in the Middle East. However clumsy and half-hearted President Obama either actively contributed to or supported the removal of Middle East dictators. During the Bush years commentators here and in Europe found it convenient to pretend that President Bush's freedom agenda was a radical departure from American foreign policy led by a radical ideologue. Now President Obama, supposedly the anti-Bush, put a stamp on his own freedom agenda. The message to China received by both its dictators and its reformers is that, after exhausting all other options, America stands for freedom.  

This a particularly important message from an administration that went out of its way to downplay concern over human rights abuses with China. To my knowledge, while president, Obama has not met with a single Chinese dissident active in China. But with the Arab Spring, despite its convulsions, and the toppling of Muammar al-Qaddafi, with all its uncertainties, Obama has retained the mantle of leader of a liberal world order.

Eventually the peaceful resolution of the Sino-American competition depends on political change in China. While America has limited means to push China toward liberalization, it certainly is not lost on Chinese leaders and citizens, who badly seek the respect of other great nations, that China remains one of the last dictatorships. Perhaps that will be the catalyst for change in China.

Daniel Blumenthal is a resident fellow at AEI

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About the Author

 

Dan
Blumenthal
  • Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations.  Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade.  From 2001 to 2004, he served as senior director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the Department of Defense.  Additionally, he served as a commissioner on the congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission since 2006-2012, and held the position of vice chairman in 2007.  He has also served on the Academic Advisory Board of the congressional U.S.-China Working Group. Mr. Blumenthal is the co-author of "An Awkward Embrace: The United States and China in the 21st Century" (AEI Press, November 2012).

  • Phone: 202.862.5861
    Email: dblumenthal@aei.org
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