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October 04, 2013

White House: Obama Determined to Continue Asia Re-Balance

by Dan Robinson

The White House says President Barack Obama remains committed to his strategy of re-balancing U.S. economic and security interests to Asia, and is determined to return to the region to reinforce this point.

The bitter politics surrounding the partial U.S. government shutdown, which the White House blames on congressional Republicans, led Obama to cancel his Asia trip.

The president would have gone to the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Indonesia, the gathering of leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific economies.  
 
This is the second consecutive year Obama has missed the APEC summit.  In 2012, the U.S. presidential election campaign kept him from attending the summit in Russia.

Press secretary Jay Carney called the cancellation "a setback" to creating U.S. jobs through promoting exports and advancing American interests in the region.

But he said the President remains committed to "re-balancing" U.S. policy toward the Asia-Pacific.

"The president is committed to the pivot of U.S. policy towards Asia. And he will - he looks forward to continuing his work with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region and to returning to the region at a later date," said Carney.

The cancellation also keeps Obama away from face-to-face meetings with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders at the East Asia summit in Brunei.

Carney avoided a direct answer when asked about conversations between Obama and his advisers about what would be lost by canceling the remainder of his Asia trip, which was to have included Malaysia and the Philippines.

He said Obama wanted to go and is fully aware of the stakes.

"It's not good for our economy to have the president unable to travel to Asia, where some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are located, to make the case for America's economic dynamism and America's potential as a source of investment and also to make the case for America's national security interests in that region," he said.

Ernie Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the cancellation of the trip will spark new questions in the region.

"The chief desk officer for the Asia-Pacific in the second Obama term is the guy named Barack Obama.  But low and behold, Congress is pinning this guy down and he cannot get to Asia," said Bower.

Jay Carney was also asked about the lost opportunity to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali.

He said Obama and President Putin communicate "with some regularity" and he cited the vote in the UN  Security Council to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

On whether China, represented at APEC by President Xi Jinping, would be able to capitalize on Obama's absence, Carney said Obama and President Xi met in the United States earlier this year....

Conversations that will continue, the spokesman said, while adding that it's in the interest of the U.S. to engage in Asia.