Asia After Obama

NEW DELHI – US President Barack Obama’s 10-day Asian tour and the consecutive summit meetings of the East Asian Summit (EAS), the G-20, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have helped shine a spotlight on Asia’s challenges at a time when tensions between an increasingly ambitious China and its neighbors permeate the region’s geopolitical landscape.

Significantly, Obama restricted his tour to Asia’s leading democracies – India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea – which surround China and are central to managing its rise. Yet he spent all of last year assiduously courting the government in Beijing in the hope that he could make China a global partner on issues ranging from climate change to trade and financial regulation. The catchphrase coined by US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in relation to China, “strategic reassurance,” actually signaled America’s intent to be more accommodating toward China’s ambitions.

Now, with his China strategy falling apart, Obama is seeking to do exactly what his predecessor attempted – to line up partners as an insurance policy in case China’s rising power slides into arrogance. Other players on the grand chessboard of Asian geopolitics also are seeking to formulate new equations, as they concurrently pursue strategies of hedging, balancing, and bandwagoning.

A fast-rising Asia has, moreover, become the fulcrum of global geopolitical change. Asian policies and challenges now help shape the international economy and security environment.