Writing for the Washington Post, Josh Rogin isn’t a fan of President Obama’s Asia policy:
The Obama administration has never been willing to use the big tools at its disposal — for example, economic sanctions — to confront Chinese maritime aggression, and there’s no sign that reluctance will change.
“If there were economic consequences of some kind involved, we would be more likely to get their attention,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But most people in this administration are reluctant to say we are going to put the whole relationship at stake over this. And when you get to the final months of an administration, you begin to lose leverage.”
To the unresolved problems the Obama administration will bequeath its successor — Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, North Korea — you can add China’s assertiveness in the South and East China seas.
It’s a strong and persuasive article—you should read the whole thing. We’ve been saying much the same ourselves. Xi doesn’t appear worried about U.S. pushback thwarting his agenda—at least not while President Obama is in office.
Meanwhile, without a more effective U.S. Asia strategy (if you can even call what we have now a coherent strategy), other countries worried about China are going to struggle. Southeast Asia won’t ever move as one bloc, but it might be possible to get more cooperation there if the U.S. were more encouraging and assertive. Selling arms to Vietnam was a good start, but it needed to be part of a more comprehensive plan. South Korea and Japan have been getting along better, but that’s because of North Korea’s belligerence more than it is because of any proactive American strategy.
Until there’s a new man or woman living in the White House, it’s tough to imagine things changing—the current president is set in his ways. But policymakers and diplomats should be thinking hard about what the United States can do differently in the coming administration to achieve our objectives.