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Obama Steps Into Great Game

Three years into his administration, President Obama is defining his Asia policy. The Wall Street Journal reports:

One of Mr. Obama’s core objectives is to serve notice that the United States will serve as a counterweight to China’s growing economic, diplomatic and military influence.

“This trip is very much about extending a clear signal that the United States is going to be fully present in the economic, security and political future of the Asia-Pacific region, and it takes place in the context of a rising China,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser at the White House, said in an interview Sunday.

The president framed his central message on Saturday: “The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay.” […]

But China has proven to be a continuous complication. On trade, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pressured China to allow its currency to appreciate, only to be told by Beijing that China is doing enough. On national security, China is extending its claims in the region, worrying U.S. partners and allies who both depend on China for trade but fear it may exercise its power in more forceful ways.

As a result, China’s neighbors have implored the U.S. to deepen its involvement. “The nations of the region very much want us here,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Via Meadia approves.  The United States is and will remain a great Pacific power, and the President’s views on this matter reflect the views and the interests of both parties.  Interestingly, the President continues to move away from the rhetoric of decline and abdication that once marked the utterances of some of his associates and advisers.  This is a President who has learned a great deal about the durability and the importance of American power — and not only in Asia.

As the President clearly understands, American power in Asia rests partly on our own resources and military strength, and partly on the consent and support of the region.  China’s neighbors do not want us to leave. The United States hopes to avoid rather than provoke confrontations with China, but President Obama clearly believes that an assertive American stance and good relations with key allies is the best way to keep relations with China on the right footing.

In addition to the developments in the great game, the meeting also showed some advances on economic policy in the region:

On the economic front, Mr. Obama announced advances over the weekend in a regional free trade deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that excludes Beijing for the foreseeable future. Mr. Obama hailed the news Sunday that Canada and Mexico plan to move toward joining negotiations, adding momentum to U.S.-led trade talks.

To get in, China would have to foster more competition between private companies and state-owned enterprises, and boost protection of intellectual property rights, conditions China will have difficulty meeting.

The expansion could give China incentives to move toward more open markets and eventually join the pact, but makes clear the U.S. and many of China’s neighbors will move forward without Beijing.

The revival of an Asian trade agenda is another significant development in our Pacific policy. Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” referred to countries aiding us in the Iraq War, Obama’s refers to our willing trade partners in East Asia. Deepening our economic integration with our future allies in the region is a smart and sensible policy, and has the dual benefit of encouraging China to make the economic changes necessary to balance the world economy. Obama has unveiled a host of new economic policies targeting China, hopefully the enhanced U.S. presence will help them to have some impact.

President Obama campaigned like Jefferson, spoke like Wilson, and in Asia at least he is talking like Hamilton.  A strong commercial policy linked to a realist set of alliances in the service of the balance of power is exactly the kind of Asia policy Alexander Hamilton would recommend.

In any case, now that President Obama has put his cards on the table, the Great Game is about to become much more interesting.

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  • Kris

    “Obama Steps Into Great Game”

    You name it, he’ll step into it.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    He has 1 year left to gain something on the foreign policy front, to balance 3 years of failures. He has failed to take advantage of the “Arab Spring”, failed in Israel, failed with missile defense and the Russian reset, he had to be dragged into presenting the previously negotiated trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama, he hasn’t shown leadership at any of the economic summits, he is endangering the seed of American culture placed in Iraq with early withdrawal, I can’t think of any reason why he is suddenly going to become a master of the great game in his final year after 3 years of failure.

  • gracepmc

    Almost laughable. Apologies. But really? Even Panetta himself is warning what current Congressional inaction could do to the military, which internally is being undermined by an overdose of political correctness. And last time I checked we had a good chance of losing Manas to Russia, Obama’s newest BFF. Russia in the WTO — brilliant, good times, good tims. And Canada is looking to China as a customer for the oil deal that Obama squelched in the interest of political campaigning, over American jobs. If this is part of the pre Great Game strategy perhaps Obama should consider adding Herman Cain to the Susans and Hillary. And that brings me way too close to a very bad joke. The only reason Obama is animated about this is because it brings him closer to his Grand Vision of himself. This has nothing to do with America. Oh yeah, perhaps he might have to chat up the land of the lazy on the international scene but other than almost bringing this country to its knees Obama hasn’t shown anything to suggest he is capable of a sound foreign policy. At least his cut in run in Afghanistan resembles the Russian. And finally, it takes money to play these “games” and right now we get ours by either printing it or borrowing from China. There is nothing in Obama’s pathetic presidency that suggests he can even spell sound commercial policy.

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