17 Nov 2011

Obama reasserts US trade power on Pacific trip

As China’s rise continues, three senior US officials including Hillary Clinton have made recent high-profile visits to the Asia-Pacific region. Channel 4 News asks what is the US strategy there?

“A State Department colleague told me: ‘We’re dreaming about the Pacific, we’re scheming about the Middle East and we’re working with Europe,'” so Chatham House‘s senior US policy fellow Xenia Dormandy sums up Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

The past few months have certainly seen a shift in attention paid by the US to the Asia-Pacific region, an area thought to have been somewhat neglected under his predecessor George W Bush, but one which is seen as having increasing significance.

But Ms Dormandy told Channel 4 News that this charm offensive is “about trade and economic issues as well as geopolitical ones”.

 Read the blog from Asia Correspondent John Sparks: Obama says G'day to opportunities Down Under

In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarked on a tour of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines in a trip which aimed to “strengthen key alliances” with the emphasis on improving and cementing economic and trade relations in the region.

But it is clear the US is making its presence felt because it also has defence concerns, with a focus on China.

Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta also made his first trip to Asia in October where he did not mince his words on the issue of Chinese military ascendance: “We’re concerned about China” he said.

No defence cuts for Pacific

Another issue at which Europeans may raise an eyebrow is what this all means for the US’ special relationship with the ‘old world’ in Europe.

But Xenia Dormandy at Chatham House told Channel 4 News it is not time yet to start divorce proceedings: “This does not mean that the US is no longer interested in Europe. The US wants to and will continue to engage with Europe.

“However, the US has said the defence budget for the Pacific region is not being cut – it has not said the same about the budget for Europe.”

Despite fears over relations with an economically battered Europe, at a time when US pre-eminence is being questioned, and even seen as being over by some, it cannot afford to ignore any longer the economic and strategic opportunities offered by its rising Asia-Pacific neighbours.

By rediscovering old friendships and reaffirming old alliances, the US may remind those countries with an interest in global dominance that it is not willing to be written off just yet.