The reaction in Asia to the dominance of U.S. power is only surpassed by a fear that the United States is in retreat.
As President Barack Obama traveled to Asia Tuesday for a four-country trip, this fear should be foremost on his mind. What many of Asia’s political and cultural leaders fear most, however, is the United States retreating inward while distracted by crisis after crisis — from Libya to Syria to Crimea. With China on the brink of becoming the world’s largest economy and the geopolitical puzzle pieces of the China seas seemingly in renegotiation, the Eastern world is asking where Washington stands. This is Obama’s moment to demonstrate the components of his much-heralded, but still largely undefined, tilt to Asia.
The stakes for Obama’s legacy as a world leader — and for the U.S. position as a Pacific power — could not be higher. The president was right to signal a “tilt” in U.S. policy toward Asia. He now has an important opportunity to carry the Asia pivot through to a conclusion.
Though many U.S. allies wring their hands about the prospect of Washington moving toward Asia and, they fear, away from Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, virtually all nations have been busy “rebalancing” their foreign policy and trade agendas toward Asia.
This does not reflect ideological or geographic preference, but reality. The Western economic powers — including the United States — have been precariously slow to recognize Asia’s rise as not only the new engine of the global economy but also as a potential source of challenge and conflict.