President Obama wrapped up his 10-day tour of Asia's biggest democracies with a stop in Japan this weekend. (Watch The Hill's recap of Obama's trip.) Here, pundits and analysts weigh in on what he achieved (or failed to achieve) with his visits to India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan — and, of course, his non-visit to China, the country that in many ways dominated the whole tour:
Obama's trip to India was "worth every penny," says Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. The fast-growing, free-market democracy is the region's best counterweight to an increasingly aggressive China, and it "must be the center of our Asian diplomacy." Obama hit the right notes, but who cares? "No one remembers what Nixon did in China; what changed the world is that Nixon went to China." The most striking thing about Obama's "feel-good trip to India," says Juan Cole in The American Conservative, is how little he could offer. Mostly, Obama just "bumped up against the limits of American economic and diplomatic clout in the new Asian world order."
Obama's last-minute cancellation of two previously planned visits had left raw feelings in his childhood home, says Guy De Launey in BBC News. But "any residual frostiness towards Mr. Obama seemed to melt away" after he landed. A few, flawlessly pronounced jokes in Indonesian, and a "rock concert"-like speech at the University of Indonesia, completed the charm offensive. The crucial part of Obama's speech, says The Washington Post in an editorial, was his "strong case" that freedom and democracy will help Indonesia "succeed in the long run." But he missed an important opportunity to chastise Indonesia for its just-revealed human rights abuses, says Stefan Simanowitz in The Guardian.
The highlight of Obama's attendence of the G-20 conference in South Korea was supposed to be the announcement of a free-trade deal, says Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times. Instead, he and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak "emerged empty-handed" from their meeting. "Analysts on both sides of the political aisle" described Obama's failure to meet his self-imposed deadline for a deal "as a serious setback." And not only for U.S. car and beef exports, either, says Doug Palmer in Reuters. Showing that a U.S.-Korea deal is politically viable "is vital to U.S. credibility in talks on a broader trade pact" being negotiated in the region.
Obama "made little headway" at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Yokohama, Japan, writes Patricia Zengerle at Reuters. In particular, his attempt to expand a Trans-Pacific free trade agreement to include the U.S. ended in failure. "Clearly, the trip was more difficult than Obama hoped for." But the president's first meeting with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard while at the APEC forum helped forge a good relationship between the two countries, says Michelle Grattan at the Sydney Morning Herald. Australian support could help the U.S. "get China to move towards a market-based currency."
The China non-visit
Obama insists that his Asia trip "is all about jobs," says Robert D. Kaplan in The New York Times. But "in geopolitical terms, the president's visits in all four countries are about one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea." India, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan are all wary of China's expanding power, and Obama needed to reassure them that the U.S. will keep China's ambitions in check. Obama's "encirclement" of China sure "looks fishy" to the "prickly nationalists" in China, says The Economist. And if China's paranoia constrains its belligerence, "that may be no bad thing." But Obama's China-skirting itinerary is mostly just a coincidence: Korea and Japan are hosting key international summits, India is a foreign-policy priority, and he just owed Indonesia a visit.
This article was originally published on November 12, and updated on November 15.