MANILA, Jun 14 2014 (IPS) - Amid simmering territorial conflicts across the Western Pacific, specifically between China and its neighbours in the South and East China Seas, coupled with China rising to the rank of top trading partner with Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Obama administration has been hard-pressed to re-assert its strategic footprint in the region.
Since 2009, Obama has turned Washington’s strategic focus towards the Asia-Pacific region, which has gradually emerged as the global center of gravity in both economic and geopolitical terms.
The “Pivot to Asia” (P2A) policy, formally announced in late-2011, represents Washington’s renewed attempt to tap into booming markets of Asia and check China’s rising territorial assertiveness in the East and South China Seas.
The P2A policy contained both trade as well as security pillars, designed to maintain the U.S.’ strategic primacy in Asia and aid its post-recession economic recovery. The cornerstone of the Obama administration’s economic policy in Asia is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which excludes China and covers 12 Pacific Rim countries that collectively account for about 40 percent of the world economy.
In security terms, the Obama administration has sought to deepen the U.S. military footprint across Asia by exploring new basing agreements and gradually redeploying 20 percent of its naval assets from the Atlantic to the Pacific theatre.
Obama’s latest trip to Asia, however, underlined the inability of Washington to balance its economic and geopolitical initiatives in the region. While Obama managed to strike new strategic agreements with leading Southeast Asian countries, namely Malaysia and the Philippines, and strengthen bilateral military alliances with Japan and South Korea, there was, in turn, no concrete development vis-à-vis the ongoing TPP negotiations.