A senior State Department official told Congress on Tuesday that the partisan political drama unfolding around Washington's current budget fight does not bode well for the Obama administration's "Asia pivot."
The White House, in what it has called a "rebalance" of the administration's foreign policy in President Obama's second term, had hoped to shift focus from the troubled Middle East to the emerging Far East.
The proposed shift toward Asia, seen by many as a crucial step needed to counter the rise of China's influence in the region, has earned praise from Republicans and Democrats alike.
But the rebalance has been impacted by Washington's budget fight.
"Our Asia-Pacific interlocutors are quite attuned to developments in domestic American politics," said Joseph Yun, presently the acting assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
"They are concerned about the possibility of decreased U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and a reduction in foreign assistance for Asia," he told a House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing focused on the region on Tuesday.
The remarks coincide a quiet tide of speculation among foreign policy insiders in Washington over the future of the Obama administration's policy toward Asia.
Questions about the policy have swirled since the recent resignation of former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell -- widely regarded as the key architect of the "Asia pivot" initiative.
Mr. Yun, named Feb. 8 to replace Mr. Campbell until Mr. Obama nominates a permanent successor, stressed on Tuesday the United States wants to encourage nations across Asia to adhere to "democratic practices and improved governance."
But Washington's bipartisan standoff over sequestration -- the across-the-boards budget cuts set to take effect on Friday -- isn't helping, he said.
Mr. Yun, in prepared testimony, said U.S. allies in Asia are uneasy to 'hear growing calls for slashing foreign assistance' in Washington," he said.
"In some quarters, doubts continue to linger, particularly regarding our financial ability and political will -- given pressing security challenges elsewhere in the world -- to maintain a long term regional presence."
Mr. Yun added that "it will be increasingly vital for U.S. officials to continue to underscore, in concrete terms, our firm and unwavering commitment to the Asia-Pacific region."
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