Waiting for Obama

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.

As for Obama, he will first visit Japan, and, while at APEC, will also attend the first US-ASEAN Summit. Afterwards, he will go to China and South Korea. What additional dimension might America’s president bring on his first visit to the region?