The visit of President Barack Obama to India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea will be as important as his earlier swing through the Asia-Pacific region after assuming office in January 2009. His first swing was in November last year when he visited Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea.
Japan and South Korea are figuring in both these swings, indicating the importance attached by him to the USA’s relations with its two military allies in Asia. Highlighting the USA’s solidarity with these two countries and its security commitments to them have been an important hallmark of his Asia-Pacific policy. One has again seen this recently in the joint exercises held by the US Navy with the South Korean Navy despite Chinese concerns in the wake of the alleged sinking of a South Korean naval ship by North Korea and in the reiteration by Mrs.Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, during her current swing across the Asia-Pacific region that the US security commitments to Japan covered the Senkaku group of islands in the East China Sea too. While the US wished for a peaceful resolution of the dispute between Japan and China, its security commitments to Japan will continue to cover these islands too so long as there is no definitive settlement between Japan and China on the question of sovereignty over the islands.
The reasons for the priority given to China in his Asia-Pacific policy have been economic as well as military”” the impact of Chinas rise as an economic power on the US economy and the impact of Chinas rise as a military power on peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and on the freedom of navigation in the waters of the area.
In addition to Japan and South Korea, his Asia-Pacific focus has been on China, India and Indonesia in that order. The reasons for the priority given to China in his Asia-Pacific policy have been economic as well as military—— the impact of China’s rise as an economic power on the US economy and the impact of China’s rise as a military power on peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and on the freedom of navigation in the waters of the area. Economic issues such as the alleged Chinese manipulation of the value of its currency in order to maintain its exports to the US to the detriment of the US manufacturing sector and the alleged Chinese use of its monopoly in the production of rare earths as a political weapon against countries such as Japan are increasingly figuring in the diplomatic discourse between the US and China.
China-related issues with military implications such as the increasing assertiveness of the Chinese Navy, the modernisation of its armed forces and Beijing’s repeated emphasis on its “core interests” even if they are at the expense of the “mutual interests” of the countries of the region have led to two consequences. Firstly,a US determination to maintain the primacy of its Navy in the Asia-Pacific region and secondly, its increasing interest in bilateral issues involving China and the countries of the region such as China’s disputes with Japan and some ASEAN countries, particularly Vietnam, on the question of sovereignty over the islands in the East and South China Sea.
Obama’s enhanced interest in India has economic as well as military origin. Economically, while the Indian manufacturing sector poses no threat to the US manufacturing sector similar to the threat posed by the Chinese manufacturing sector, India’s services sector, particularly its lead in the information technology sector, is casting, in his view, a lengthening shadow on the US job market. Hence, his unyielding pressure against outsourcing to India to the detriment of the unemployed in the US. Obama’s inability to deal effectively with the US economy has been an important contributing factor to the decline in his popularity and to the set-back expected to be suffered by his party in the current mid-term elections to the US Congress. It could come in the way of his own chances of re-election as the President. Obama’s economic pressure against both China—on the question of its manipulated currency— and India on the issue of outsourcing would continue at least till the next Presidential elections. Neither China nor India can expect any gestures from him on economic issues.