China Looms as Obama Tries to Strengthen Ties with Asian Democracies

A McClatchy report on President Obama’s recent trip to Asia was really all about China, despite the fact that the country wasn’t on his itinerary:

And each of the four countries has its own foreign policy significance – Indonesia for U.S.-Muslim relations and terrorism, and India for the war in Afghanistan, nuclear security, counter-terrorism and climate change, to name just two.

Yet China’s rising economic and military clout, and the stagnant U.S. economy, inevitably asserted themselves at each stop – in Obama’s speeches, in foreign leaders’ remarks and in questions from the public and the press.

It was front and center at the G-20 in Seoul, where China chastised the U.S. for acting to weaken the world’s sole reserve currency, and Obama lashed out at China’s undervaluation of its yuan, calling it an “irritant” to the U.S. and other trading partners.

China was unmistakably part of the narrative when Obama told college students in Mumbai, India, that “for most of my lifetime, the United States was such a dominant economic power” that it always met other nations “on our terms,” but “because of the incredible rise of India and China and Brazil and other countries … we’re going to have to compete.”

See also a report from the contentious APEC meetings, which Obama also attended:

Analysts said the discord reflects a broader trend involving how the Pacific Rim, including Russia and the United States, is adjusting to a changing balance of power, with China assuming a much larger role because of its economic rise and an expansion and modernization of its military that has allowed it to take a more hands-on approach to project its newfound might.

In the diverse and politically volatile region where China’s presence is felt most acutely, high-profile disputes like the rival island claims are being watched closely by countries pondering whether to move more closely into Beijing’s sphere of influence or — as Japan has done for decades — throw in their chips with Washington.

“The forum is not about security, but all of the players care about this a lot,” said Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Everyone at the meeting has something at stake in East Asian security.”

Also, in an interview with Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper, Obama called on China to respect international law, Bloomberg reports:

“The peaceful resolution of outstanding differences and respect for international norms and law are central” to ensuring security and prosperity in Asia, Obama said in the interview published today. “We want to ensure that China’s rise is a source of security and prosperity for all.”

Obama’s statement came in response to the newspaper’s question of whether the U.S. opposes China’s attempts to “override” Japan’s administrative control of disputed islets in the South China Sea. A Sept. 7 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the rocky outcrops, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, soured relations between the two countries.

Obama’s response didn’t refer to the islands specifically, according to the newspaper’s transcript.

See also a New York Times editorial about China’s currency policy, “Now, Will China Get It?


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