Crack Palinggi/courtesy Reuters
My colleague Elizabeth Economy raises some important points about my article in Newsweek, but I think that, overall, she takes a far too rosy view of the White House’s efforts, and its rewards, in Asia. Much of the polling data showing the White House’s popularity or favorability in Asia, for example, reflects as much Asian enthusiasm for Obama, and dislike for his predecessor George W. Bush, as it does any real regional response to the Obama administration’s efforts, or lack thereof, in the region. In Indonesia specifically, the favorability rating reflects Obama’s status as a kind of “local boy,” having spent part of his childhood there; by contrast, specific elements of the mooted US-Indonesia comprehensive partnership are not necessarily popular in important segments in Indonesia, including a renewed relationship with Kopassus.
I do, as Liz notes, acknowledge when the administration has made headway. However, even some of the supposed triumphs are not necessarily so. The U.S.-South Korea free trade deal was negotiated by the previous administration, and despite Obama’s vow to move forward with it, the conditions he might attach to rethinking it may well kill it anyway, thereby both raising Seoul’s hopes and crushing them at the same time. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, meanwhile, is not an initiative launched by the Obama administration – it was started by Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand, and joined by the United States years later. The Obama administration, as even some administration officials admit in private, highlighted the TPP during the president’s visit to Asia last year exactly because the White House did not have any other good news on trade to offer, and TPP is so far from coming into reality that Washington could support it without having to face any real consequences of that support.
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