Hillary Clinton is off to Asia, her second trip there since she took office. Right away, she became the first Secretary of State in four decades to go to Asia before Europe. The Obama Administration is playing its cards well on Asia so far.
Despite the contentious issue of the location of the American military base at Futenma, the Administration has forged solid ties with a brand-spanking-new government in Japan, which came to office having very public doubts about the alliance.
Relations with China now have a set structure, with the annual Strategic Economic Dialogue, Presidential summits and formal bilateral talks on a whole host of subjects, terrorism recently included.
The Administration is pushing China to play a constructive role on global challenges, with some results in climate and on Iran.
Rough patches are coming up, however, on trade, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, President Obama’s upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama and China’s recent crackdown on dissidents.
And the harsh sentencing of democracy activist Lu Xiabo is a depressing sign of the times.
The U.S. has signed ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, allowing the U.S. to appoint an ambassador and formally tying the US closer to SE Asia. President Obama was the first U.S. president to attend an ASEAN summit. As China’s courting of SE Asia has been in overdrive in recent years, this is a welcome symbol of U.S. engagement in the region.
North Korea’s nuclear program continues to vex, but the Administration persevering. China actually enforced sanctions against its neighbor last year, and the Obama Administration can take some credit for that.
We’ll see whether the Obama Administration’s willingness to talk bilaterally will succeed in the end. The U.S. does not seem willing to give any additional concessions to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.
The Administration certainly breathed new life into the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
And they checked the box on a “strategic” relationship with India, though the relationship needs deepening.
Secretary Clinton is going to visit Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea — and then give a major address on Asia policy during her trip.
One major theme will be: America is back.
– Nina Hachigian