As Obama tours Asia, a chronology of issues on the agenda


US President Barack Obama’s weeklong trip throughout Asia, which ends April 29, is largely a media event that will have few implications beyond soothing Asian leaders, who are concerned that the United States is distracted by events in the Middle East and Ukraine. Geopolitically, the trip is of little significance. Topics on the agenda, however, certainly include America’s so-called pivot to Asia through the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade issues with Japan and the country’s reinvigorated military, growing tensions over disputed small island chains and shoals throughout the region, the renewal of a US military presence in the Philippines, Malaysia’s democracy, and the country’s missing jetliner.

Below are recent Stratfor analyses of these and related issues.

The US pivot to Asia

Obama’s Travel Schedule: Revisiting Overlooked Allies

Feb. 3, 2014: In the next quarter, US President Barack Obama will turn his attention back to several allies he neglected in 2013. He will not only be sending a symbolic message of US commitment to their countries, but he will also be quietly encouraging regional powers to shoulder more responsibility in their respective neighborhoods as Washington ties up loose ends in the Middle East.

US: A Progress Report on Washington’s Re-engagement with Asia

Oct. 4, 2013: The United States continues to make progress on the military and defense aspects of its foreign policy pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry held meetings with their counterparts in Japan on Oct. 3, after Hagel negotiated a new military strategy with South Korea and before Kerry heads to the Philippines to discuss increased American troop rotations there. The United States is seeking to re-establish itself in East Asia in response to the rise of Chinese power, the threats posed by North Korea and an ever-increasing economic interdependence with the region.

A Reinvigorated Japan

Japan’s Naval Ambitions in the Indian Ocean

Jan. 16, 2014: Japan is trying to improve its strategic position by expanding military ties with India and by boosting its naval presence in the Indian Ocean. However, Japan’s engagement with India is not so much tailored toward the creation of a joint Indo-Japanese front against China as much as it is about bolstering Japan’s own position in the Indian Ocean.

Japan’s Morally Troubled Revival

Dec. 11, 2013: The Japanese Constitution forbids keeping a military except for self-defense purposes. But that constitution may change. And even if it doesn’t, don’t believe the language in it, for military planners in Tokyo have been working around such language for decades already.

Island Disputes

Interpreting the Chinese

Feb. 12, 2014: By provoking crisis after crisis in the East and South China seas, China is apparently acting against its middle-term strategic interests abroad in exchange for short-term benefits at home. After all, provocations such as bullying the Philippines and raising tensions with Japan will only intensify these countries’ reliance on US power, which China wants to see dissipate in the region.

Japan and China’s Escalating Island Dispute

Sept. 10, 2013: If acted on, a statement by Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga that Japan could station public officials on the disputed islands known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu in China would mark an escalation in the long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries. It would also mean Japan believes it can handle China’s reaction, which could be strong.

China, Philippines: The Latest Conflict in the South China Sea

June 3, 2013: An ongoing standoff between China and the Philippines over the Second Thomas Shoal—a remote shallow coral reef in the Spratly Islands—could be a new flashpoint in the countries’ ongoing territorial tensions in the South China Sea.

US Military Presence in the Philippines

In Government Shutdown, US Asia Policy Hits Limitations

Oct. 2, 2013: On Oct. 2, the White House canceled President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia and the Philippines, slated to take place Oct. 11-12, citing “logistical” difficulties as a result of the partial federal government shutdown. The cancellation points to Washington’s continued trouble finding the capacity to maintain its policy of “pivoting” toward the Asia-Pacific region, where the US is seeking to, among other initiatives, revive its defense alliance with the Philippines.

The Philippines’ Imperatives in a Competitive Region

June 18, 2012: As a small, poor and primarily agricultural country, the Philippines has not always been capable of maintaining its political and maritime security, especially in the face of much larger powers. With the maritime environment in the South China Sea shifting, the Philippines must utilize its strategic location at the intersection of larger powers to secure its own domestic economic and energy needs.

Malaysian Democracy

The Politics of Malaysian Demographics

May 20, 2013: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the leader of the country’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, formed his Cabinet on May 15. Though its lineup is subject to change, especially after intraparty elections later this year, the new Cabinet highlights the most significant and potentially destabilizing trend in Malaysian politics: the weakening political relevance of the ethnic Chinese party within the ruling coalition.

Malaysia’s Elections Reveal Growing Political Competition

May 3, 2013: Malaysians will vote May 5 in the most anxiously anticipated elections since independence from Britain in 1957. The opposition hopes to build on significant gains made in 2008. Whether or not it does, the increased political competition will have economic consequences.

Republishing of this article by The Manila Times is with the express permission of STRATFOR.


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