Advantage China as Obama cancels Asia tour

Kerry to lead US at APEC and ASEAN summit; Obama’s absence will provide Beijing the chance to buttress its claims to preeminence in Indo-Pacific region. Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Oct 05, 2013 01:26 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Barack Obama,US,China

President Barack Obama has called off plans to attend two summits in East Asia because of the shutdown, raising questions at home and abroad about America’s Asia pivot.

Efforts to end the shutdown stalemate are now increasingly focussed on the looming debt default deadline, amid early signs of Republicans reconsidering their recent intransigence.

Secretary of state John Kerry will be leading the US delegations to those summits — Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bali, Indonesia and ASEAN in Brunei.

But Obama’s absence, fear experts, will provide China — President Xi Jinping is already in the region — the chance to buttress its claims to preeminence in the region. It fits perfectly into a Beijing narrative that the US cannot “sustain a high level of focus on the Indo-Pacific region”, argued Ernest Bower, a southeast Asia expert, in a blog post.

Questions are also being raised about all-around US credibility.

“The US cannot be a part-time power,” Nicholas Burns, a former diplomat, said in TV interview.

Obama was expected to hold several one-on-ones on the margins of the meets — Xi, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

The president had earlier cancelled visits to the Philippines and Malaysia. The White House attributed the cancellations to the shutdown, which, it said, was forced by House Republicans.

But increasingly now, House Republicans, who had indeed forced the shutdown, are appearing willing to reconsider their position in order to resolve the crisis.

House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, has let it be known through trusted allis that he is willing to raise the debt ceiling in an open vote, before the deadline of October 17.

If the ceiling on the government’s ability to rase money through taking on debt was not raised by then, the government will run out cash, US Treasury secretary Jack Lew has said.

And in a report released Thursday Treasury warned that the consequences of the US defaulting on its debt could be “catastrophic” leading to a 2008-like recession or worse.

Moves are afoot now to take up the budget and debt together, with moderate Republicans fighting back against their ultra-conservative colleagues who precipitated the crisis.

First Published: Oct 05, 2013 00:35 IST