The administration of outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama advocated “rebalancing” toward Asia, placing importance on the Asia-Pacific region for security, diplomatic and economic policies and strengthening ties with U.S. allies in the region such as Japan, South Korea and Australia. At the same time, the Obama administration failed to stop China’s unilateral maritime advancement, including artificial islets the country has been building in the South China Sea, nor did Obama present effective solutions to North Korea’s nuclear development program.
It is believed that Obama first declared his focus on the Asia-Pacific region in a speech at the Australian Parliament in November 2011. He called the United States a “Pacific nation” and said he made a decision for his country to “play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.”
That is to say, in the big picture that Obama drew up, the United States will cooperate with Asia-Pacific nations such as Japan, South Korea and Australia as well as member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to maintain its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. By doing so, the U.S. will keep China in check militarily while maintaining diplomatic relations with it and bringing the world’s second largest economy into the international order. By leading the establishment of regional order in the Asia Pacific, the country can benefit from growth in the region.
Like other policies Obama introduced, however, his Asia-focused strategy often lacked implementation.
For example, Obama could not win congressional approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact, the pillar of his economic policies, during his tenure, and the 12-nation trade accord is on the brink of being scrapped altogether under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
In addition, there was a shift in Obama’s security policy team in his second term, becoming more China-focused. This has in some ways delayed the United States’ response to China’s maritime advancement in the South China Sea.
Some have pointed out that because Obama stated in 2013 that “America is not the world’s policeman,” his administration has since been considered as one that hesitates to use military force, which allowed China, Russia and North Korea to take advantage.
On the Japan-U.S. relationship, meanwhile, the unification of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military advanced during President Obama’s second term, which coincided with the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
When Obama visited Japan in the spring of 2014, he was the first U.S. president to state that the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are covered under Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which sets the United States’ roles in defending Japan. While tension between Japan and China over the islands still lingers, the situation has not developed into a conflict partly because of the Obama administration’s involvement in the issue.
It remains to be seen what kind of policies Trump, who has repeatedly made remarks on possible reviews of the Japan-U.S. alliance, such as demanding Japan pay more for the U.S. military’s presence in the country, will take in relation to Asia. We demand that Trump inherit President Obama’s Asia-focused basic policy stance for his government.