Tea Partiers weaken US in Asia

by Chris Zappone

Ex-Australian PM Julia Gillard, in comments in Washington, said that Obama’s absence at two Asian Summits on what would have been a four-country tour have sent the wrong message (i.e. that the US doesn’t care about Asia).

From IBT:

Mr Obama has previously pledged to focus more on Asia, but as the news of a U.S. government shutdown was threatening to cripple government operations, he cancelled what was supposed to be a four-nation trip including two Asian summits.

Ms Gillard said at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC that she was with other world leaders in the APEC forum in Bali when it was announced that Mr Obama had cancelled all his prior engagements in Asia.

Ms Gillard said “you could hear the painful thud” when news broke about Mr Obama’s non-attendance. According to Ms Gillard, there were other countries in this region that were working out plans for long-term alliances.

For a little background, as China grows more powerful, it’s looking to assert itself through the region. In response, Obama
has pledged more US engagement in Asia – that means everything from more attention, to more trade deals, to more military
coordination, to more diplomacy. Many other Asian nations fear China’s rise because of the lawless, feudalism and the scale
of the country – not to mention historical enmity.

But instead of Obama representing the US in Asia at this crucial time the US had to send John Kerry. So, now, the Tea Party-driven shutdown has had the effect of sewing seeds of doubt among the US’s would-be partners and allies in Asia.

But it’s this line, from AFP, which should alarm even the most radicalized Obama-hater: 

US allies largely refrained from publicly criticizing Obama’s absence, which came as President Xi Jinping toured Southeast Asia and stressed Beijing’s growing trade and investment.

 

That’s right. The president of China was on tour in the region, even addressing the Indonesian parliament. Obama’s absence was certainly noticed in the region: Here is an editorial from the Jakarta (Indonesia) Post, called: Who leads the 21st Century Asia Pacific? Certainly not the US.

I suppose if you’re a Tea Partier and you want to hurt and cripple the Obama White House, you can be happy with the results of the shutdown, which are undeniably dragging the focus back home.

Nonetheless, Obama, as President of the US, represents the America abroad. And so, whether the intention was there or not, the Tea Party “urge,” let’s call it, has frustrated the US’s ability to send consistent signals about US friendship in a highly contested part of the world. 

This is what Obama means when he said the shutdown has “emboldened our enemies.” Believe me, this is shifting the calculus
in Asia.