Barack Obama smiles as he attends a town hall meeting with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative at the GEM Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
America’s economic and strategic future rests in Asia. Home to half the world’s population and the three largest economies in the world, the Asia-Pacific region is ground zero for growth in the global economy. President Obama understands this well, and is visiting Asia this week to strengthen the bonds between America and its Asian allies.
And yet, America’s ambitious strategy to reassert itself as a Pacific power—its so-called “rebalance” to Asia—is hardly completed. As David Sanger reports in the New York Times, seven years into the rebalance, “Asian nations are deeply skeptical about how much they can rely on Washington’s commitment and staying power in the region.”
First, conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was delayed. Recall, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was to be a central pillar of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia. The deal was originally supposed to be concluded in 2012; however, negotiations stretched all the way into late 2015. Consequently, the TPP’s prospects are thinning under the corrosive politics of the 2016 election. To be clear, a failure to pass the TPP would have serious strategic consequences for America’s role in Asia.
Another hurdle to the rebalance has been that America’s foreign policy energies have been focused elsewhere. In the period that the Obama administration hoped to shift its attention to Asia, the United States was forced to continually respond to economic and security crises in the Middle East and Europe.
The result is that America's rebalance to Asia is in trouble. For the United States, this could mean a significant economic and strategic opportunity lost. For Asia, an absent America could spell more political, economic, and military instability in the region.
This week's selected reads examine the challenges inherent in American leadership in the Pacific, and highlights some of the pitfalls that may further derail US efforts to rebalance to Asia.
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