VIENTIANE – After eight years of dealing with America’s self-styled “Pacific president,” Asian leaders will soon have to work with a new administration.
Barack Obama’s last trip to Asia was always going to have a sense of nostalgia and finality.
He received a farewell round of applause from G20 leaders in China and South East Asian leaders paid tribute to him Laos. Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi thanked him for nudging her country towards democracy.
From White House staff to Obama himself, his regional swansong capped the “pivot to Asia’’ policy of his eight-year term and was thick with a sense of an administration winding down.
“My hope and expectation is my successor will in fact sustain this kind of engagement,’’ Obama said as he rounded off his trip in Laos.
During his two terms in the White House, Obama has tried to shift America’s focus away from Middle East quagmires and toward rapidly growing Asia.
He has mended relations with Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos, while bolstering regional blocs and providing a counterbalance to China’s regional ambitions.
But questions hang over whether Obama’s pro-Asia stance will be sustained.
Donald Trump has called into question the mutual defense treaties with Japan and South Korea, which have been the cornerstones of US policy in Asia since World War II.
But overall the Republican nominee’s strategic thinking on foreign policy has been hard to gauge, and Asian diplomats readily admit they have struggled to find interlocutors in his campaign team.
Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton, as Obama’s former top envoy, was intimately involved in creating and implementing the “Asian pivot,” which has bound Washington tighter to the region and provided a counterpoint to China’s dominance.
As secretary of state, Clinton regularly courted Beijing’s ire on the South China Sea – which she described as part of the US’s “national interest’’ – as well as its human rights record. (AP)