Waiting for Obama

As Barack Obama gears up for a long trip to Asia in November, he has the opportunity to ensure that the region continues to see the US as the essential actor – now more open and helpful than before. Asian regionalism is messy and rife with tensions and flash points, and the US has an opportunity to re-assert its role as the stabilizing power in the region.

This is the season for Asian gatherings. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand in late October brought all the key players of Asia together. Come mid-November, almost all of them will meet again in Singapore at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which will include other Pacific leaders, plus US President Barack Obama.

Summits are a circus with many rings and acronyms. At the ASEAN summit, the 10 Southeast Asian leaders met counterparts from China, Japan, and South Korea.  These 13 countries then met again with India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Some 42 agreements were reportedly penned at the meeting, on issues ranging from outstanding trade and economic matters to the launch of a human rights commission. Not bad for a summit that some feared would not happen at all: an earlier meeting planned for April in Bangkok had been disrupted by protesters – “red shirts” who support ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

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