At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed caution over the Obama administration’s ‘pivot’ to East Asia, warning that it risked unnecessarily antagonizing a wary China. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Elizabeth Economy argues that this was a mistake:
Secretary Kerry’s apparent unease with the pivot has unsurprisingly set the Chinese press all atwitter and given Chinese analysts some hope that President Obama has appointed a kinder, gentler Secretary of State. The major Chinese state-supported newspapers—the Global Times, People’s Daily, and Xinhua—highlighted his remarks on the pivot and then offered some thoughts on Kerry’s likely diplomatic approach [….]
[…] By suggesting that the pivot may be out of favor, Secretary Kerry has also drawn into question U.S. credibility. Officials and analysts abroad have already raised doubts about U.S. staying power in the Asia Pacific; Secretary Kerry’s doubts will only add fuel to the fire.
[…] Secretary Kerry understandably wants to make his mark on U.S. foreign policy over the next few years, and he appears to be setting himself a challenging agenda, including making progress on a free trade agreement with Europe and restarting the Middle East peace talks. However, the original logic of the pivot—ensuring security in the Asia Pacific and taking advantage of the region’s economic dynamism through a free trade agreement—still stands. It’s too early to pivot away.
Max Fisher adds, at The Washington Post:
Kerry’s balancing act, as he seems to see it, is about how to engage in Asia without unduly upsetting China and damaging the important (and sometimes-tenuous) U.S.-China relationship. It looks like Kerry might be erring a little more on the side of preserving friendly U.S.-China relations than Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state, when she cultivated close ties with Southeast Asian states, often to Beijing’s...
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