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Background Brief United States: President Obama to Visit Southeast Asia Carlyle A. Thayer September 30, 2013

[client name deleted] We request a scene setter assessment of President Obamas forthcoming visit to four Southeast Asian countries. Q1. President Obama will visit Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines from October 6 to 12. Asian media state that the visits are aimed at reinforcing the US alliance and facilitating its re-balancing to Asia, realizing part of the Presidents commitments to the USs stronger involvement in politics, economy and security in the Asia-Pacific (in fact, to curb the rising up of China). What is your assessment? ANSWER: In November 2011 President Obama initiated a multidimensional policy of rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific Region. This new strategy includes political, diplomatic, economic and trade, and defence and security components. At the start of his second term President Obama has asked each of his Cabinet members to make at least one trip to Asia a year. The President has led by example. He has attended every East Asia Summit since 2011 when the United States joined. He has also attended every ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting (now raised to the level of ASEAN-US Summit). President Obamas trip to Southeast Asian in October is in furtherance of his rebalancing strategy. He will visit Brunei to attend the East Asia Summit and Indonesia to attend APEC [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum]. These are obligatory trips since they are held every year. President Obama (and Presient Xi Jinping) will attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia. The Presidents trip to the Philippines will differ because the US and the Philippines are treaty allies. The US is pressing for an increased rotational presence and is providing assistance to the Philippines to modernize its armed forces. This suits both sides. President Obamas trip must be seen as a continuation of his policy of supporting US economic engagement with Southeast Asia as part of his strategy for US economic recovery. Equally, President Obamas trip is about reaffirming and supporting ASEAN and its centrality in regional affairs. Under President Obama the US seeks to engage with and cooperate with China. At the same time the US opposes the use of force, threat of force, intimidation and

2 coercion by any state to advance its territorial and maritime claims. The US therefore will continue to support its treaty allies to build up their capacity for self-defence. President Obama does not seek to curb Chinas rise but to encourage cooperation with China and Chinas support for rules based behavior. Q2. The four Southeast Asian countries have geographic positions which are regarded as pincers jaws to besiege China by a US-led military alliance with Japan as a nucleus. Do you agree with this assessment? ANSWER: The United States military presence in Asia may be explained by historical factors. The United States and Japan have a mutual security treaty that was initially designed to protect Japan from the Soviet Union and then North Korea. The US presence has prevented Japan from becoming a military power and from developing nuclear weapons. The US presence in South Korea is designed to deter a North Korean attack on South Korea. The US presence in Japan and South Korea are interrelated. Recent Chinese assertiveness and intimidation directed at Japan over the Senkaku islands has resulted in closer US-Japanese defence cooperation. But the US plays a diplomatic role of encouraging China and Japan to cease provocative behaviour and to tone down their rhetoric of mutual hostility. None of the four Southeast Asian nations that President Obama will visit Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines can be considered strategic pincers to contain China. None are militarily powerful. With the exception of the Philippines, none are treaty allies of the United States. Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia all cooperate with the US in defence and security matters. They prefer for the US to remain engaged in Southeast Asia to balance China but they do not want to be roped into an anti-China coalition. Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia do not and are unlikely to provide military bases for the US. Only the Philippines has offered the US temporary rotational access to its military facilities. Here the China factor is key. If China had not occupied Mischief and Scarborough reefs and pressured the Philippines, the US-Philippines alliance would not be as active as it is now. The Philippines has argued that treaty relations are reciprocal. In this context, the Philippines has indicated that it is willing to host US forces in the event of conflict on the Korean peninsula. All four Southeast Asian nations are members of ASEAN and have a strategic partnership with China. Q3. ASEAN and China are speeding up negotiations about the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). What message on South China Sea disputes do you think President Obamas trips to Southeast Asia will convey? ANSWER: President Obama will restate the standard U.S. position: the United States takes no side on sovereignty disputes. At the same time the U.S. opposes the resolution of territorial disputes by force, the threat of force, intimidation and coercion. The U.S. supports ASEAN and an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct.

3 Q4. After the Syria chemical weapons crisis has cooled down, regional media assume that the US will again start rousing the Asia-Pacific region, especially amid China taking advantage of the US focus on Syria issues to increase Chinas influence so as to dominate the South China Sea. What is your assessment of this argument? ANSWER: The cooling down of the Syria situation has meant the U.S. will not be involved in an attack on Syria and the destabilizing consequences such an attack will produce. This means the U.S. will not be distracted from its rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific. The Syrian chemical weapons question and the U.S. threat to use military force was a momentary flash in the pan and China was not able to take advantage of it in its relations with Southeast Asia. The Syrian crisis has moved into another phase. The U.S. policy of rebalancing has achieved a momentum of its own. The U.S. president is scheduled to attend the ASEAN-US Summit and East Asia Summit. President Obamas Cabinet members were told this year to plan at least one trip to Asia every year. Secretary Kerry will continue to attend the ASEAN Plus 1 meeting and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The United States will press ahead with the TransPacific Partnership agreement. On the defence side, the U.S. is conducting more exercises with regional states than ever. Several show case multilateral exercises such as Cobra Gold held in Thailand are bigger than ever. More regional states are cooperating in CARAT Cooperation Afloat and Readiness exercises. The U.S. has signed Joint Vision Statements with its two treaty allies, Thailand and the Philippines. Q5. President Obama is scheduled to make keynote speeches at the US-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit in Brunei. What issues will the President touch on? ANSWER: The Presidents speeches will touch on broad themes that form a core part of his approach to the Asia-Pacific. He will emphasize the importance of ASEAN and the United States taking advantages of the potential of the Asia-Pacific to promote peace and prosperity in the present century. The US is and will remain a resident power in the Pacific. The U.S. policy of rebalancing is multifaceted and involves reinvigorating economic, political, socialcultural, and defence and security ties with the region. Rebalancing is not a policy aimed at China and it is not a policy of containment. The President will reaffirm U.S. commitment to engage with China to support a rules-based international system. He may mention positive progress following his meeting with President Xi Jinping in Sunnuylands. In both speeches President Obama will reiterate U.S. support for maritime security, freedom of navigation and over flight and unimpeded lawful commerce. He will state that while the U.S. takes no sides on sovereignty disputes the U.S. is committed to seeing that these disputes are resolved without threats, without intimidation and coercion and without the use of force. Once again the President will support ASEAN and its efforts to reach a binding COC as swiftly as possible. In his speech to the ASEAN-US Summit President Obama will state that ASEAN is at the centre of U.S. policy towards the Asia-Pacific. President will support Southeast Asias efforts to create an ASEAN Community, and an ASEAN Economic Community

4 in particular, by the end of 2015. President Obama will stress the importance of expanding investment and trade and reiterate his initiative for an ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement Initiative or the so-called E3. And he will mention the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in regional economic integration. President Obama will also mention U.S. support for the Lower Mekong Initiative in dealing with environmental, agricultural and food security issues. President Obama will stress the importance of people-to-people ties especially through the Fulbright Program. In his speech to the East Asia Summit (EAS) President Obama will say that the U.S. would like the EAS to become the premier forum to discuss political and strategic issues and shape the agenda for the ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus. President Obama will also stress the importance of three security issues: cyber security, non-proliferation and maritime security.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, United States: President Obama to Visit Southeast Asia, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, September 30, 2013. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

The Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2013

Obama Shortens Asia Trip Due to Government Shutdown

White House Can't Get Personnel in Place to Handle President's Visits to Malaysia, Philippines

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government is already taking a toll on one of President Barack Obama's top foreign policy priorities: strengthening America's ties with the fast-growing economies of Asia. President Barack Obama, pictured in Washington on Oct. 1, postponed trips to Malaysia and the Philippines to deal with the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government. The White House said on Wednesday that it had canceled Mr. Obama's visits next week to Malaysia and the Philippines. The administration is still assessing the president's plans to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Indonesia and another regional summit in Brunei after Congress failed to agree on funding the government in the new fiscal year, which began Tuesday. Foreign policy analysts say that curtailing the trip to Asia could prove a serious embarrassment for the Obama administration. The president has put Asia at the center of U.S. foreign policy in his second term, hoping build economic and diplomatic ties in the fastest-growing part of the world economy after a decade focused on the Middle East and Afghanistan. U.S. government officials have spoken repeatedly about the importance of the region and the U.S.'s role there, often pointing to how Washington's engagement in the region after the end of World War II helped usher in a period of breathtaking economic growth. "If the president does make it to the APEC and East Asia summit meetings, people will still know he's damaged goods in that he'll be severely distracted," said Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy and an expert on geopolitical balance in the region. "If he doesn't show up, well, the implications are terrific. The current situation in the United States has created a disaster for U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region. And you can be sure that China will be there, making hay." Indeed, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Jakarta on Wednesday, meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in an effort to boost trade and investment. The countries agreed on a currency swap agreement worth $15 billion for three years that could support Indonesia's rupiah, which has suffered in the recent emerging markets crisis, while companies are expected to sign 23 investment

agreements Thursday covering mineral refining, telecommunications, railway and housing projects. Domestic problems have disrupted Mr. Obama's plans to match China's growing influence the region before. In 2010, he twice postponed visits to Indonesia and Australia, to help push through health-care legislation and then again to manage the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, before eventually visiting the region later in the year. The following year, the White House launched a broad-reaching rebalancing, or pivot, of its policy to Asia, and in 2012 Mr. Obama visited Thailand, Cambodia, and notably Myanmar, where China's economic clout began to dwindle after Washington encouraged the former military-run state to accelerate political and economic reforms. Much of Washington's momentum is now placed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade zone spanning the U.S. and 11 other Asia and Pacific countries, including Japan, Australia, and Malaysia, although not China, which is aiming to expand another free-trade pact in Asia. Mr. Obama aims to conclude negotiations on the pact by the end of the year, with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman describing it as a top priority during a visit to Japan in August. Still, some Asian diplomats previously expressed their concern privately that the Obama administration began to lose its focus on Asia after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped down last year. Ms. Clinton traveled frequently to the region, and was to many policy-makers here the face of the U.S. "pivot." Her successor, John Kerry, has spent much of his time working on issues in the Middle East, especially in reviving talks between Israel and Palestine and more recently the Russian-opened opportunity to get Syria to give up chemical weapons. U.S. officials worry that if the government shutdown forces Mr. Obama to abandon his Asian trip entirely, then it risks reinforcing the impression that Washington isn't as committed to the region as it claims. "It does have an effect on our relationships around the world and it cuts straight to the obvious question: Can you rely on the United States as a reliable partner to fulfill its commitment to its allies?" Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in South Korea earlier this week. "It does cast a very significant pall over America's credibility with our allies when this kind of thing happens." So far, there is little sign of a public backlash against the Obama administration's moves to cancel the visits to Malaysia and the Philippines. Government officials and local analysts said the stalemate in Congress that led to partial shutdown of government is well understood, while the White House said Mr. Obama plans to visit the countries at a later date. Mr. Kerry, the secretary of state, will visit those nations in his place for now. "It just shows the depth of the crisis, of the shutdown, that President Obama has to attend to it," said Ramon Casiple, a political analyst and executive director for a Manila-based think-tank, Political and Electoral Reform in the Philippines.

The White House said that it couldn't get personnel in place to handle the visits to Malaysia and the Philippines, which came at the end of a four-nation swing. It cited the shutdown that has forced agencies to furlough hundreds of thousands of federal workers. "Logistically, it was not possible to go ahead with these trips in the face of a government shutdown," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. She said the "completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to promote U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership in the largest emerging region in the world." And some observers said that if Mr. Obama does in fact make it to the APEC and East Asia Summit meetings in Indonesia and Brunei, it could make a strong impression on his Asian trading partners. "If the White House can hold on to President Obama's trip to Indonesia for APEC and Brunei for the EAS," Ernie Bower at the Center for Strategic International Studies in Washington noted, then the U.S.'s "strong commitment is underlined." Obama skipped the APEC summit in Vladivostok last year amid-the hard-fought U.S. election campaign. But missing it this time might delay striking the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal into 2014 or beyond, said Edmund Sim, partner at Appleton Luff International Lawyers and an expert on trade law. Ministers also hope the APEC meeting can come up with a Pacific Rim consensus that would advance the stalled Doha round of the World Trade Organization. "Here, the president's absence would be an ominous sign that the United States is not prepared to get the TPP, let alone a WTO agreement, though Congress,'' Mr. Sim said. Jared A. Favole in Washington, Cris Larano in Manila, Natasha Brereton-Fukui in Singapore, and Joko Hariyanto and Sara Schonhardt in Jakarta contributed to this article. Write to James Hookway at