Their agendas seemed as driven by desires to militarily confront China as impulses to avoid doing just that.
Mr. Panetta signed a joint vision statement with Thailand, paving the way, he said, to “stronger military-to-military ties as we adapt to the shared threats and challenges that we will face together in this region and in the future.”
Mrs. Clinton appeared in Australia at a shipyard where U.S. companies are engaged in the $8 billion construction of three Australian navy destroyers.
Separately, the pivot’s economic component has run along two fronts, opening previously closed Southeast Asian nations to private investment from U.S. companies and backing a multicountry trade agreement apparently designed to counter China’s regional economic dominance.
The first front is centered on Burma, where U.S. trade sanctions were recently lifted and Mr. Obama’s visit will be the first by a U.S. president.
The second involves the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an the 11-nation free-trade pact, likely to be the focus of Mr. Obama’s meetings on the periphery of Monday’s ASEAN conference.
The administration’s approach involves prepositioning a variety of resources from across the spectrum of military, economics and diplomacy, so that several different strategies may emerge during the years to come, said Patrick Cronin, the senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Century.
“Managing North Korea, managing the tensions in the East and South China Seas and then ultimately, in the long run, managing the rise of China,” Mr. Cronin said. “Those are the three things that different strategies could be built for and what the administration is doing is trying to reallocate resources to and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
“Whether they’re doing an adequate job of allocating sufficient resources is a good question,” he said, adding that the administration appears bent toward overextending the U.S. militarily in the region without seizing aggressively enough on much-needed opportunities to profit from deeper economic ties.
“We are living off borrowed time with our strong defense investments of the past,” Mr. Cronin said. “The administration articulated the pivot without considering the real resources that it would require.”