21 Apr Muted hopes for Obama’s Asia visit
FOR all the buzz about United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia this week, the tour will likely be greeted in the region with muted expectations over what he can accomplish.
While there is much symbolic value in the tour of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines to the US’ strategy of refocusing on Asia, few people in the region expect much tangible change in any of the key areas of concern.
The two biggest doubts are: the issue of US military engagement – whether the US can be relied on to intervene militarily in Asia given its reticence over the unfolding Ukraine crisis – and whether the President can muster enough political will at home to get any potential free trade deals ratified.
A media note from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs last week was titled “Obama’s visit – Asia’s turn to be distracted”, in which the institute’s chairman Simon Tay says “while he (Mr Obama) will still be greeted with much fanfare when he arrives next week, the truth is that the region has moved on”.
All of it adds up to deep scepticism in the region over the health of the so-called “Asia pivot”.
Part of the problem, say observers in Washington, is that for the White House to deliver the kind of engagement Asia wants, the hard work at home has not yet been done.
This article was published in The Straits Times on 21 Apr 2014. A PDF download is available.