Asia Reacts to President Barack Obama's Final Trip to Asia

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 From September 29, 2016, President Barack Obama embarked on his last trip to the Asia-Pacific, visiting China to attend the G-20 Summit and attending the 11th East Asia Summit hosted by Laos, which is wrapping up its chairmanship of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year. As a result of this visit, President Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Laos. While in the region, President Obama discussed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), worked to strengthen stronger ties with US allies and partners, and briefly met with the new president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte after cancelling a formal meeting following improper remarks by Duterte against President Obama's character. 

To view additional topics in the Asia Reacts to... series, scroll down or click here

Click on a country to jump down to its specific reactions: AustraliaChinaJapanPhilippinesSingaporeSouth Korea 


"Bush's preference for coalitions of the willing and distaste for engagement with dictatorial anti-American regimes gave way to the Obama Administration's inaugural promise to 'extend a hand if you will unclench your fist.' Obama convened the first US-ASEAN Leaders' Meeting in Singapore in 2009, despite the presence of General Thein Sein as a representative of Myanmar's junta (a move the Bush Administration would not countenance). Two years later, Thein Sein would become president and (for reasons that are still not fully apparent) move Myanmar toward democracy. These changes matter. Under Bush, American diplomatic engagement appeared ad hoc, limited to issues of interest to Washington, and to countries of Washington's choosing. The rebalance flipped the script, meeting Southeast Asian leaders on their home ground, in a format and setting of their creation. It represented a fuller commitment to diplomacy in the region, and to the norms and institutions of the liberal international order. And it ensured that the US would be in the room when those norms are debated or revised."


"As U.S. President Barack Obama attends his last East Asia Summit here Thursday, it is high time that Washington conducted some serious soul-searching over the outgoing administration's signature pivot to Asia policy. Unlike many of his predecessors who were inclined to take adventures in the Middle East, Obama dubbed himself the United States' first Pacific president, and has chosen to entrench and expand the U.S. presence in Asia. Yet the past few years have repeatedly proved that his overarching strategy, later labeled the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, is just a narrow-minded scheme orchestrated to maintain his country's hegemony and corrosive to the region's peace and stability."

"The strategy has had some effect. A few Asian countries have welcomed it, which has brought quite a few troubles to China's diplomacy, and it did not cost Washington too much. But the US' eventual aim of containing China's rise has not been realized. In the past six years, just as Washington turned its attention particularly to Asia, China's overall strength has been growing, so has its clout in Asia.  No matter who replaces Obama, the US will continue to focus its attention on Asia, as the region boasts the most potential for economic growth, and is also a center for both old and new geopolitical rivalries. Even if Donald Trump is elected, he will face a number of constraints if he wants to adjust the country's Asia policy. The rebalance to the Asia-Pacific has evolved from the pivot to Asia, which was coined by Hillary Clinton in 2010. She must feel attached to it."

"Nevertheless, the legacy of Obama's rebalancing strategy will not last long. Whether Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton succeeds him, Obama's TPP is unlikely to be inherited in its current form by the next US administration. Trump, if elected US president, is more likely to put aside TPP. In this sense, Obama's Asia tour, with visits to Hangzhou for the G20 Summit and Vientiane for the East Asia Summit, could be the beginning of the end of his rebalancing to Asia-Pacific strategy. Neither Obama's TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership plans are likely to yield results - even if Clinton succeeds him - nor is the US military pressure expected to produce the results Obama expects."

"'Obama is the first US president to visit Laos in 50 years. Laos had been almost a blind spot in the Asian-Pacific region and could never attract US attention,' [...] 'The US is attempting to enlarge its influence on Laos through Obama's visit while diluting China's impact on the country,' [...] However, media have overstated this visit. 'Laos is the host of the ASEAN summit, so Obama just has to be there. But Obama's presidency is going to end in a few months. The effect of his visit can hardly be sustained.'" - Ge Hongliang, Research Fellow, Charhar Institute and College of ASEAN Studies, Guangxi University for Nationalities

"'So how could the US be entitled to make irresponsible remarks (on the South China Sea)?' the spokesperson said in a statement. The spokesperson said the US side should pay due respect to actual facts, drop its double standards, and honor its commitment not to take sides on the issue of territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea. 'Only in this way could Washington retain credibility, and play a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and stability,' the statement read."


"It is unacceptable that Xi insisted China would 'firmly continue to protect its sovereignty and maritime rights' in the South China Sea. Beijing has called on Washington to play a 'constructive role' in dealing with this issue, but it is China that is raising tensions in the region and challenging the U.S.-led order there. It was unfortunate that this last chance for Obama to draw out a compromise from China before his term ends in January 2017 failed to produce a positive result. Obama has avoided a sharp split in U.S.-China ties and has pushed a conciliatory approach that placed emphasis on expanding cooperation. This strategy was dependent on a positive change from China, but we think Obama ended up being viewed by Xi as merely an 'opponent who is easily taken advantage of.'"


"Philippine-US relations need not hit the rocks just because DU30 wants to be independent vis-à-vis the major powers. We are, as DU30 puts it, no longer a vassal state. But there is no need tocreate personal antagonisms and animosities between heads of state on non-state issues. No particular group, whether in the US or in the Philippines, should be allowed any reason to see DU30 as an obstacle to the most civil and constructive state-to-state relations."


"To be sure, the record is a mixed one. At one level are the evident successes of his Asia policy: the arc of friendships he's solidified starting with once proudly non-aligned India, now firmly a fellow traveller, to the opening with Myanmar that's helped send its army back to the barracks and the dramatic reset of ties with Vietnam, once a bitter enemy. There were also the soothing gestures towards Japan as he visited Hiroshima, the victim of the first atomic bombing in history, and this week's outreach to Laos, once mercilessly bombed by America as it sought to cut off the supply route for Vietnamese forces. This year's elegant state dinner for Singapore, a rare event, also underscored the value of an enduring friendship that's helped maintain the peace in Asia. On the most important account though, with China, the jury will be out for a long time. Could the relationship have been handled better? Or should the American leader be credited for preventing it from sliding to worse levels? Has he, intentionally or otherwise, made China look isolated in its natural backyard? Could he not have attempted to reel in North Korea the way he seems to have done with Iran? Was his signature economic programme for the region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a bit half-hearted?"


"'As there are misgivings over the credibility of Washington's provision of the nuclear umbrella, calls have been growing for Seoul's nuclear armament,' [...] 'The U.S. president offered some sort of reassurance to South Koreans, insinuating even if the U.S. should have to take the risks of coming under attack due to its allies, it would offer extended deterrence to its allies.'" - Nam Chang-hee, Security Expert, Inha University

"The legacies of the two-term Obama administration will likely be tarnished if Donald Trump is elected. The Republican candidate is racing neck and neck with Hillary Clinton two months before election day. He says Obama made America weak, with no respect from abroad. He opposes Obama's signature accomplishments: the Iran deal-the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action- and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is also opposed by Clinton's campaign." 

Additional Topics in the Asia Reacts to... Series

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's Trip to India and the Philippines
Secretary of State John Kerry's Historic Visit to Hiroshima
Donald Trump's Comments on Possible Nuclear Armament of Japan and South Korea
 Nominations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump 
 Donald Trump's First Foreign Policy Speech
 President Barack Obama's First Visit to Vietnam
President Barack Obama's Historic Visit to Hiroshima
 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Fourth Visit to the United States
 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Deployment
2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions
First Presidential Debate of the 2016 US Election 
 Second Presidential Debate of the 2016 US Election
Final Presidential Debate of the 2016 Election
 Election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States
President-Elect Donald Trump's Talks with Asian Leaders 
The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump
 President Donald Trump's Executive Order on the Trans-Pacific Partnership 
 US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord
 President Donald Trump's First Visit to Asia

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