While the White House was canceling the remainder of the president’s Asia trip last night, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak were agreeing to a new “comprehensive strategic partnership” between their countries. The partnership agreement, of course, was under discussion long before the latest congressional budget impasse, but as far as the US position in Asia is concerned, the optics here are detrimental at best.
In recent days, America’s Asian allies, friends, and potential partners have not only observed Washington’s inability to get its own house in order and seen a president subordinate his supposedly signature foreign policy initiative to domestic concerns, but have also seen China go on a diplomatic offensive.
Xi Jinping became the first foreign leader to address the Indonesian parliament and, during his trip, the two countries agreed to a $16 billion currency swap, which will promote two-way trade and shore up the rupiah. The China-Malaysia agreement will enhance security cooperation and nearly triple bilateral trade in the next four years. Xi Jinping will end his Southeast Asian swing at the APEC summit in Bali, after which Premier Li Keqiang will launch his own tour through the region, attending the ASEAN meetings in Brunei before heading to Thailand and Vietnam.
One hoped that with Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy article announcing the pivot two years ago, the administration was finally committing itself to a proactive approach in the Asia-Pacific. Looks like we’re back to playing catch-up. US interests in the region will suffer for it.