As Obama caps years of Asia ‘pivot’, regional tensions smolder

(L to R) Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chano-cha, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, U.S President Barack Obama, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak pose for photo during ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

(L to R) Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chano-cha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, U.S President Barack Obama, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak pose for photo during ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Barack Obama defended his efforts to ‘rebalance’ U.S. foreign policy toward Asia on Thursday even as he wound up the final visit of his presidency to the region with the South China Sea dispute still smoldering.

Obama’s trip to Asia began and ended on awkward notes.

Arriving for a G20 summit in China last week, his staff argued with airport security officials over media access, and a meeting in Laos with the Philippines’ new president was called off after he alluded to Obama as “a son of a bitch”.

Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy with his mother, a development worker, told a group of young leaders that the emphasis he had placed on Asia over his two terms was personal.

But addressing leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Laos on Thursday, he said it was also “key to a peaceful and prosperous future for the world”, and voiced his hope that whoever succeeds him in the White House next year would take it forward.

Obama, whose foreign policy focus has been widely seen as a response to China’s economic and military muscle-flexing across the region, said critics at home were wrong to say it had failed when Asian leaders only wanted more.

“The concern that I’ve heard is – will it continue? And, almost uniformly, the questions I get from other leaders is: we hope that America’s interest, and presence, and engagement is sustained,” he told a news conference in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
Nevertheless, there was barely concealed tension at the summit of East Asian and Southeast Asian nations in Laos.


China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims on the sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. The last four are part of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The statement made no reference to a July ruling by a court in The Hague that declared illegal some of China’s artificial islands and invalidated its claims to almost the entire sea.

But Obama pointedly told the meeting that the arbitration ruling, which China refuses to recognize, was “binding”.

“We discussed the importance of claimants adhering to steps they’ve already agreed including respecting international law, not militarizing disputed areas and not occupying uninhabited islands, reefs and shoals,” he told reporters later.

For its part, Beijing voiced objections several times to what it referred to as countries outside the region “interfering” in tussles over the South China Sea – wording that is usually understood to mean the United States and Japan.

Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters in Laos it had been “inappropriate” for two countries, which he did not name, to bring up the arbitration issue during the summit.

Besides the ASEAN members, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and the United States attended.

China has over the past year alarmed other claimants, and outside powers such as the United States and Japan, by re-claiming land on several disputed reefs through dredging, and building air fields and port facilities.

The Philippines, a longtime ally of the United States, pumped up tension over the South China Sea on Wednesday ahead of a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and ASEAN leaders.

It released photographs and a map showing what it said was an increased number of Chinese vessels near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which China seized after a standoff in 2012.

Its defense ministry expressed “grave concern” that China was preparing to build structures at the shoal.

China’s embassy in Manila said there has been no dredging or building at the shoal and China has maintained a coastguard presence there for law enforcement patrols.


The Philippines’ move came after a dispute with the United States, its former colonial power. Ties turned frosty when new President Rodrigo Duterte insulted Obama on Monday, prompting the cancellation of a meeting between them.

Duterte has bristled at criticism from abroad of his war on drugs, in which more than 2,400 people have been killed since he became president two months ago.

Obama and Duterte made some steps toward clearing the air late on Wednesday, chatting briefly, and exchanging pleasantries as they prepared to take their seats at a leaders’ dinner.

Obama has made 11 trips to the region as U.S. president.

But they have often been overshadowed by events at home or other parts of the world, and his ambition to put a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact at the heart of the “pivot” to Asia has been frustrated.

The prospects for U.S. congressional approval for the TPP have looked increasingly dim, with both major presidential candidates – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump – standing opposed.

“I have said before and I will say again failure to move ahead with TPP … will call into question America’s leadership,” Obama said in Laos. “I think it is important for the entire region and it is important for the United States.”

(Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Brenda Goh and Maniel Mogato, and by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Source: Reuters “As Obama caps years of Asia ‘pivot’, regional tensions smolder”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


4 Comments on “As Obama caps years of Asia ‘pivot’, regional tensions smolder”

  1. Simon says:

    Australia has gone quiet all of a sudden made no mention about the illegal PCA as binding. I wonder why?


    • James says:

      Cannot be caught out being a hypocrite too often. Caught stealing from impoverished Timor Leste. Shameless Aussie greed. A rich country stealing from a struggling nation…


    • Joseph says:

      Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is actually a puppet prime minister and holds no power. The power was actually in the hand of his treasurer, the Chinese-hater Scott Morrison. And right now, the Australian is in really awkward position to be in China’s and ASEAN’s bad side. Australian economy has actually been badly damaged by constant smears of anything Chinese, foreign and domestic alike. The Aussie wants Chinese money but want to preserve White Australia Policy unofficially at the same time. Recently, not only Chinese investments from China is under attack, but also SE Asia Chinese investments, only because they do not want to give White Aussie the control of their investments, which they call ‘unaustralian’. Not only foreign Chinese investors are under attack, domestic Chinese Australian entrepreneurs are also under attacks. Chinese Australian who sell Australian baby formula online are under constant attack despite breaking no law, only because those Chinese Australian are more successful at selling baby formula than the baby formula companies that sell overpriced products directly to China. Recently, a senator receiving donations from an Australian college belongs to a Chinese Australian was attacked as a Chinese ‘collaborator’ and viciously forced to resign. The college, TOP education was branded Chinese-owned company, only because it offers ‘real’ education with international qualification for Chinese overseas students. It is accused to have ‘links’ with Chinese government, not that it is illegal. Many Australian major companies have link with foreign interests, and it never bothered the Aussie. The real reason may be that becomes more popular than other White Australian-run colleges. Colleges in Australia are rampant with bluff colleges, offering Australian visa and promising Australian permanent residency more rather than real education they pay for. Their graduates/victims practically earned useless degree. Incredibly, bluff colleges for overseas students are one of Australia main industry, so big that when many overseas students retreat due to poor education quality, they can pull some political strings to source their revenue from local Aussie students/victims in order to survive, with so predictable outcomes.


  2. Joseph says:

    What would Obama expect after all what he has done in region? If he expects to come as conqueror, he is sadly mistaken. He was warned by ASEAN leaders before about repercussion of escalating tension in the region. Now he reaps the result being alienated by the ASEAN leaders for his doings. Not even his culminated ‘ally’, Aung San Suu Kyi wants to talk to him. But look at the bright side, his eternal ally of Philippines still stands by him, if he can stand the language of new best friend the Philippines president which he described as ‘colorful’. They are still ally, aren’t they? Those two perfectly match each other, sassy in their own way. Obviously Obama had to cancel his first meeting with Duterte to review his strategy. As assertive attitude obviously can no longer works, the American must work out some milder attitude to avoid muddling in the mud like pigs. Not that I can see the difference between the filth in Brooklyn and piggery mud. But it appears that Obama will remain peer less as even Duterte prefer to bewitch with his arc-nemesis the Russian president Putin than to commune with him, right in front of his eyes. After he joked before about the Russian president to look like bored kid on the corner of the classroom, he is now in the position to as the bored-looking kid who sits alone in the corner of the classroom.
    Obviously Obama is really shameless to claim connection with Indonesia after he slander Indonesian iconic street food, bakso. After Obama express his longing for bakso, according to White House official history statement, that Obama’s favorite Indonesian food, which actually indonesianized Chinese meat ball soup, is now actually Dutch meat ball soup, eliminating any trace of its Chinese origin. Well he can go to Netherland to eat bakso if he can find one there. If the White House would go to so much trouble to change the history of a humble street food, only because of its Chinese connection, image what other important histories has been changed to eliminate their Chinese connections.
    In the end, the G20 and ASEAN summit is a perfect good bye for Obama’s presidency. In the region that he wrecks so much, it’s only fitting that the region gives him a scoffing good bye. Good riddance Obama, you will certainly not be missed.