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RPI Policy Report: Rebooting the U.S. Rebalance to Asia
President Barack Obama’s trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines in April 2014 was an important juncture in his administration’s “pivot” or “rebalancing” of U.S. foreign policy to the Asia-Pacific. In a region increasingly tied with U.S. security and prosperity, the president’s trip was a statement of reassurance and resolve by his administration. The president visited key partners – though, significantly, not China – to reinforce the rebalancing policy in the final years of his term.
President Obama’s visit was especially significant because it followed a series of U.S. policy setbacks and mistakes – some of which directly affected the momentum of the rebalancing initiative – and because the trip coincided with a period of growing stress in the global geopolitical environment. Notably, tensions in Ukraine have established a schism in Russia’s relations with the United States and Western Europe not seen since the Cold War. Ongoing instability in the Middle East and North Africa, a U.S. government shutdown in October 2013, and deep cuts in the U.S. defense budget have also consumed Washington’s attention.
Compounding these problems, U.S. policy toward Asia was inconsistent over the last half of 2013 and the first four months of 2014. This was especially notable with respect to the U.S. role in managing maritime and territorial disputes involving China and its neighbors.
President Obama’s trip to Asia was successful, but more must be done. The administration must overcome its recent policy setbacks, avoid policy mistakes in the future, and implement its strategic vision with strong, steadier policies.