Opinion

Obama's Asia jaunt may not add to fire power against China

J. Srinivasan | Updated on March 12, 2018

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Barely has his re-election sunk in than Barack Obama is jetting to Asia to participate in the Asean and East Asia summits. He will go to Myanmar and Cambodia — countries that no sitting US President has ever visited since the Vietnam War.

At first sight the visit signifies the growing strategic clout of Asia — the region accounts for almost a third of world economic output, some 30 per cent of global growth and played no mean role during the global financial crisis and the recession that followed. But beyond his continuing with the “Pivot to Asia” approach, the Obama visit also appears an effort to get some local talent on the US’ team for the strategic tug-of-war with Beijing. He was not sparing of China in the election campaign.

Yet, for all US’s diplomatic and economic interaction and military presence in the region, China remains quite unfazed. Beijing no doubt takes comfort from the fact that it is not just the region’s big brother with bulging military muscle, but also the biggest trading partner for each of the nations. Indeed, China's deep ties with Cambodia — it is the largest investor in with a cumulative investment of over $8 billion — and to a lesser extent with Myanmar (the two-way trade is edging close to $2 billion, while Chinese investment totaled almost half a billion dollars). and Laos all but give Beijing a say, if not veto, over Asean decisions.

The Asian nations can look at the US wistfully, but cannot afford to take on China though many have disputes with Beijing on the South China Sea. With South-East Asia’s economic fortunes firmly tied to China, the region would not want to antagonize Beijing vis-à-vis Washington, which is anyway not exactly fiscally very fit. Of course, it is a moot point if the US would want to rock the boat in the East when West Asia is yet again in a turmoil with Israel readying for fresh offensive in Gaza.

Published on November 20, 2012

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