The nations of Asia are closely watching the Obama visit, which begins Nov. 5, as a sign of U.S. commitment to regional security.
“Every country in Asia will be watching closely to see how Chinese objections and pressure will be handled by Obama,” said one official. “Most Americans have no sensitivity to this at all. But Asians, from Japan and South Korea to Indonesia and Vietnam, will all be gauging the U.S. commitment to the region.”
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for communications; William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs; and Mike Froman, deputy national security adviser for economic affairs, told reporters on Wednesday that the president’s India visit will focus largely on trade and economic issues.
Mr. Rhodes said there is no message for China by the administration in the tour of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who left Wednesday for visits to a group of Asian nations, and Mr. Obama’s visit to Asia, without a stop in China.
However, he said it was not a coincidence that India will be the first stop scheduled on the president’s visit.
“Asia is a focus, as I’ve said, and we see India as a cornerstone of our engagement with this hugely important region of the world,” he said.
On China, Mr. Rhodes said, “We don’t feel like there needs to be a choice between a cooperative U.S.-China relationship and these broader relationships that we have in Asia.”
“As an Asian power and a Pacific power, it’s in the interests of the region for the U.S. to have a cooperative relationship with China on some of these issues, but it’s similarly in the interests of the region for us to, again, be very engaged with ASEAN, to be deepening our partnership with India, and to firm up our alliances with Korea and Japan,” he said.
What China policy fight?
The Obama administration appears stung by the report in Inside the Ring last week revealing a policy fight over China and a split between pro-Beijing “kowtow” officials and a more moderate group described as “sad and disappointed” at China’s failure to cooperate with the United States on all major issues.
Asked about the Ring report, Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, who officials say is part of the “sad and disappointed” camp, told reporters Wednesday: “Look, all I can tell you in terms of the Asian-Pacific team, it is among the most cohesive, engaged groups of people I’ve ever worked with.”
The team has held “very productive discussions on all initiatives that we’ve been involved with,” Mr. Campbell said, noting that discussion of “this kind of division is wrong, is incorrect.”
“And … I think of myself as quite optimistic generally and open,” he said. “And so I would highlight instead a team that is working very hard in a very cohesive fashion together, not disunity. I think that’s totally incorrect.”
Jeffrey A. Bader, who was identified as a key figure in the “kowtow” group of officials who favor orienting all U.S. policies toward avoiding anything that would upset China, told the New York Times, without addressing the policy dispute, that the administration is aiming “to effectively counteract” the view that the United States is a declining power while China is growing, through a policy of “renewing American leadership” by shifting its Asia policy toward developing closer ties to nations in the region.
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