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Sense Of Unease Growing Around The World As U.S. Government Looks Befuddled

10/05/13
By STEVEN R. HURST

– An unmistakable sense of unease has been growing in capitals around the world as the U.S. government from afar looks increasingly befuddled — shirking from a military confrontation in Syria, stymied at home by a gridlocked Congress and in danger of defaulting on sovereign debt, which could plunge the world’s financial system into chaos.

While each of the factors may be unrelated to the direct exercise of U.S. foreign policy, taken together they give some allies the sense that Washington is not as firm as it used to be in its resolve and its financial capacity, providing an opening for China or Russia to fill the void, an Asian foreign minister told a group of journalists in New York this week.

Concerns will only deepen now that President Barack Obama canceled travel this weekend to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei. He pulled out of the gatherings to stay home to deal with the government shutdown and looming fears that Congress will block an increase in U.S. borrowing power, a move that could lead to a U.S. default.

The U.S. is still a pillar of defense for places in Asia like Taiwan and South Korea, providing a vital security umbrella against China. It also still has strong allies in the Middle East, including Israel and the Gulf Arab states arrayed against al-Qaida and Iran.

But in interviews with academics, government leaders and diplomats, faith that the U.S. will always be there is fraying more than a little.

“The paralysis of the American government, where a rump in Congress is holding the whole place to ransom, doesn’t really jibe with the notion of the United States as a global leader,” said Michael McKinley, an expert on global relations at the Australian National University.

The political turbulence in Washington and potential economic bombshells still to come over the U.S. government shutdown and a possible debt default this month have sent shivers through Europe. The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, worried about the continent’s rebound from the 2008 economic downturn.

“We view this recovery as weak, as fragile, as uneven,” Draghi said at a news conference.

Germany’s influential newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung bemoaned the U.S. political chaos.

“At the moment, Washington is fighting over the budget and nobody knows if the country will still be solvent in three weeks. What is clear, though, is that America is already politically bankrupt,” it said.

Obama finds himself at the nexus of a government in chaos at home and a wave of foreign policy challenges.

He has been battered by the upheaval in the Middle East from the Arab Spring revolts after managing to extricate the U.S. from its long, brutal and largely failed attempt to establish democracy in Iraq. He is also drawing down U.S. forces from a more than decade-long war in Afghanistan with no real victory in sight. He leads a country whose people have no interest in taking any more military action abroad.

As Europe worries about economics, Asian allies watch in some confusion about what the U.S. is up to with its promise to rebalance military forces and diplomacy in the face of an increasingly robust China.

Global concerns about U.S. policy came to a head with Obama’s handling of the civil war in Syria and the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of President Bashar Assad. But, in fact, the worries go far deeper.

“I think there are a lot of broader concerns about the United States. They aren’t triggered simply by Syria. The reaction the United States had from the start to events in Egypt created a great deal of concern among the Gulf and the Arab states,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military affairs specialist at the Center for International Studies.

Kings and princes throughout the Persian Gulf were deeply unsettled when Washington turned its back on Egypt’s long-time dictator and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 uprising in the largest Arab country.

Now, Arab allies in the Gulf voice dismay over the rapid policy redirection from Obama over Syria, where rebel factions have critical money and weapons channels from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states. It has stirred a rare public dispute with Washington, whose differences with Gulf allies are often worked out behind closed doors. Last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned that the renewed emphasis on diplomacy with Assad would allow the Syrian president to “impose more killing.”

After saying Assad must be removed from power and then threatening military strikes over the regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack, the U.S. is now working with Russia and the U.N. to collect and destroy Damascus’ chemical weapons stockpile. That assures Assad will remain in power for now and perhaps the long term.

Danny Yatom, a former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, said the U.S. handling of the Syrian crisis and its decision not to attack after declaring red lines on chemical weapons has hurt Washington’s credibility.

“I think in the eyes of the Syrians and the Iranians, and the rivals of the United States, it was a signal of weakness, and credibility was deteriorated,” he said.

The Syrian rebels, who were promised U.S. arms, say they feel deserted by the Americans, adding that they have lost faith and respect for Obama.

The White House contends that its threat of a military strike against Assad was what caused the regime to change course and agree to plan reached by Moscow and Washington to hand its chemical weapons over to international inspectors for destruction. That’s a far better outcome than resorting to military action, Obama administration officials insist.

Gulf rulers also have grown suddenly uneasy over the U.S. outreach to their regional rival Iran.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said Gulf states “must be in the picture” on any attempts by the U.S. and Iran to open sustained dialogue or reach settlement over Tehran’s nuclear program. He was quoted Tuesday by the London-based Al Hayat newspaper as saying Secretary of State John Kerry has promised to consult with his Gulf “friends” on any significant policy shifts over Iran — a message that suggested Gulf states are worried about being left on the sidelines in potentially history-shaping developments in their region.

In response to the new U.S. opening to Iran to deal with its suspected nuclear weapons program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly that his country remained ready to act alone to prevent Tehran from building a bomb. He indicated a willingness to allow some time for further diplomacy but not much. And he excoriated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Kerry defended the engagement effort, saying the U.S. would not be played for “suckers” by Iran. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful energy production, while the U.S. and other countries suspect it is aimed at achieving atomic weapons capability.

McKinley, the Australian expert, said Syria and the U.S. budget crisis have shaken Australians’ faith in their alliance with Washington.

“It means that those who rely on the alliance as the cornerstone of all Australian foreign policy and particularly security policy are less certain — it’s created an element of uncertainty in their calculations,” he said.

Running against the tide of concern, leaders in the Philippines are banking on its most important ally to protect it from China’s assertive claims in the South China Sea. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Manila still views the U.S. as a dependable ally despite the many challenges it is facing.

“We should understand that all nations face some kind of problems, but in terms of our relationship with the United States, she continues to be there when we need her,” Gazmin said.

“There’s no change in our feelings,” he said. “Our strategic relationship with the U.S. continues to be healthy. They remain a reliable ally.”

But as Cordesman said, “The rhetoric of diplomacy is just wonderful but it almost never describes the reality.”

That reality worldwide, he said, “is a real concern about where is the U.S. going. There is a question of trust. And I think there is an increasing feeling that the United States is pulling back, and its internal politics are more isolationist so that they can’t necessarily trust what U.S. officials say, even if the officials mean it.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Steven R. Hurst, The Associated Press’ international political writer in Washington, has covered foreign affairs for 35 years, including extended assignments in Russia and the Middle East.

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AP writers Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Robert H. Reid in Berlin, Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila, Gregory Katz in London, Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Sarah DiLorenzo and David McHugh in Paris contributed to this report.

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As It Pivots Toward Asia, America Brings an Undefined Era to a Close

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Anindya Novyan Bakrie | December 19, 2011

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific region, consisting of the Asia Pacific and South Asia, existed in an interregnum. The Cold War and the period that followed had passed into history, and it was time for a new era to begin.

What began, instead, was the Age of Terror, inaugurated by the 9/11 attacks in the United States. However, unless terrorism wins, it cannot define an era, no matter how terrible its tactics and how atrocious its results. This is because neither terrorism nor the war against it can settle the great issues of the day.

Thus, the war on terror could not and did not define the relationship between the great powers of the region, primarily the United States, China, Japan and India. It did not, because it could not, decide the balance of power among these nations on the basis of their economic, political, military and cultural strengths. Terrorism merely postponed the inevitable rebalancing of power in the Indo-Pacific region. The region lived in an interregnum for the first decade following 9/11.

Now, in the closing months of 2011, the United States has terminated the interregnum and initiated a new era. It has decided to pivot to the region in two ways: by expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement and by deciding to station its troops in the Australian city of Darwin, in a move that could alter the security contours of the Indo-Pacific. No country in the region will be immune to the effects of these changes.

The TPP sends out an economic message that the United States is thinking big. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu last month, US President Barack Obama unveiled the framework of a Pacific-wide free trade agreement involving nine countries.

What had begun in 2005 as an agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore took on larger-than-life proportions with the inclusion of Australia, Malaysia, Peru, the United States and Vietnam. Japan announced that it, too, would join the grouping.

Covering 505 million people in an economically exciting part of the world who enjoy a gross domestic product of $16.97 trillion and a GDP per capita of $33,546, the TPP is a super-league FTA in the making.

The United States, with the largest economy in the world, has joined hands with Japan, the third largest economy, and several other vibrant economies in a move that could set the cat among free-trading pigeons, including the European Union.

On the strategic front, the message is the same: the Americans are thinking big. The pivot has taken the form of a US agreement with Australia for the eventual deployment of up to 2,500 Marines on rotational missions in Darwin. These numbers are not big in themselves. What is big is the strategic intention behind them. At one go, America has inserted itself in the swiftly-changing scenario in the Indo-Pacific theater created by the military rise of China and manifested in its assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Are the TPP and the coming Darwin deployment attempts to exclude, encircle and contain China? They do not have to be.

China, the world’s second largest economy, is welcome to join the TPP and make it the apex FTA of the future. In the process, Beijing would become enmeshed in the emerging economic architecture of the Indo-Pacific. True, this would mean concessions on its part and agreement to play by the rules of TPP, but then the same rules would bind the other players as well, all of whom would have to make concessions. This is not containment, unless Beijing decides to see it that way.

As for the Darwin deployment, it is an American signal to the Chinese to moderate their naval assertiveness. China’s military build-up leaves no one in any doubt of its desire to protect its national interests in the Taiwan Strait. China seeks to be in a position to deal effectively with the eventuality of American (or other) intervention should Taiwan declare independence and seek foreign help.

But the South China Sea is another matter: It is contested maritime territory. For Beijing to elevate it to a “core interest,” on par with Taiwan’s and Tibet’s place in China’s territorial integrity, cannot but make the other claimants look for support from another great power. America provided diplomatic support to Southeast Asian countries worried about China, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, by reasserting Washington’s commitment to freedom of navigation in the international waterways.

The Darwin deployment reinforces Washington’s military resolve not to let Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea carry the day by default. It is now up to China to recalculate its options. This is not containment — unless Beijing chooses to see it that way.

Indonesia has not been vocal on these game-changing events and developments, but it has a role to play in them for obvious reasons. Even before American strategic thinking recognized Indonesia’s position as a pivotal power in the Indo-Pacific, geography had assigned it that role.

The Indonesian archipelago forms a crossroad between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, and it is a bridge between the continents of Asia and Australia. Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world to form a single state and Southeast Asia’s largest country. With a GDP of more than $700 billion, its economy is the biggest in Southeast Asia and has won it membership of the Group of 20.

Whether Indonesia wishes to join the TPP will depend on a calculus of costs and benefits that must take into account the fact that, for all the nation’s achievements, it remains a developing country. At the moment, what is crucial is that Indonesia contributes to the viability of the Asean Economic Community, whether or not that vision is achieved by 2015.

On the strategic front, Indonesia is not, and will not be, a part of any attempt to contain China. At the same time, however, Indonesia cannot have its options constrained in dealing with the United States, Japan, India or any other country.

This is true not only of Indonesia but of Asean in general. No country in Asean wants to be forced by either the United States or China to choose between the two. Indonesia, as Southeast Asia’s pivotal country, must continue to pursue a free and independent foreign policy that welcomes extra-regional powers without becoming a part of any exclusive agenda they might have.

All in all, these are interesting times in which Indonesia must remain relevant. Or should I say that these are pivotal times?

Anindya Novyan Bakrie is chairman of VIVA Media Group, chief executive of Bakrie Telecom, vice chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), and a presidentially-appointed representative for the APEC Business Advisory Council.

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Obama to renew, strengthen ties in Australia

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By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP)President Barack Obama turns from economic to security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region as he travels to Australia, finally making a long-delayed visit to the longtime and increasingly important U.S. ally.

Obama twice last year canceled visits to Australia, once to stay in town to lobby for passage of his health-care bill, and again in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The third time’s the charm as Obama was setting out for the capital of Canberra Tuesday morning from Hawaii, where he’s spent the last several days hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Because Air Force One has to cross the international date line, Obama won’t arrive in Australia until mid-afternoon local time Wednesday for a one-and-a-half-day visit.

Kim Beazley, Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., said Obama’s mere appearance was “enormously important” to Australians. And for the U.S., Australia’s geographic location in the burgeoning Asia-Pacific region makes the longtime ally an increasingly important one as China’s might grows.

After arriving Wednesday afternoon, Obama will meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the two will hold a joint news conference. On Thursday, Obama addresses the Australian Parliament before traveling to Darwin, on Australia’s remote northern coast, where U.S. and Australian forces were killed in a Japanese attack during World War II. Obama will pay respects at a memorial to the dead and visit a military base in Darwin, where he’ll speak to Australian troops and U.S. Marines.

The visit comes as the U.S. and Australia mark 60 years as defense treaty partners, and Obama is expected to announce plans to expand that relationship, including positioning U.S. military equipment in Australia, increasing access to bases and conducting more joint exercises and training.

The moves would effectively counter an increasingly aggressively China, which claims dominion over vast areas of the Pacific that the U.S. considers international waters. China has alarmed smaller Asian neighbors by reigniting old territorial disputes, including confrontations over the South China Sea. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the goal is to signal that the U.S. and Australia will stick together in face of any threats.

From Australia, Obama will head to Indonesia for a security summit with Asian nations before finishing his nine-day trip and returning to Washington on Nov. 20.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Regional disputes delay large-scale drilling of oil in South China Sea

Oil rig under tow, South China Sea-photo: Peter Bowater

Posted by thủy tinh vỡ

HANO: To China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, another Saudi Arabia of oil may lie beneath the ocean to its south. Escalating regional tensions mean large-scale drilling may be slipping further into the future.

The South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil, or 80 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the United States Energy Information Agency. The world’s second-largest economy claims ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over most of the sea, including blocks off Vietnam that Exxon Mobil and Russia’s Gazprom are exploring.

Disputes have strained China’s ties with its neighbors and tensions rose this year as Vietnam said oil survey boats were harassed by Chinese vessels. The friction threatens maritime security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and may be discussed at a two-day summit of Asia-Pacific leaders hosted by US President Barack Obama in Honolulu starting today.

“China is the elephant in the room at the moment, so like it or not, you cannot ignore it,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the independent China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in Fujian province. “Countries at the rim of the South China Sea are under pressure to find a practical way to deal with its presence — not to anger or challenge it.”

The sea lies south of mainland China at the western extreme of the Pacific Ocean, and while it borders several nations China claims a huge expanse. That’s based largely on a historical map that predates the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. There are hundreds of islands, many disputed.

China-Vietnam clash
Chinese and Vietnamese military forces clashed in the Paracel Islands in 1974 and the Spratly Islands in 1988. The region, marked by China’s ‘nine-dotted line’ to delineate its territorial claims, extends hundreds of miles south from its Hainan Island to equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo, and overlaps with areas claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The Philippines will propose a new initiative to settle disputes in the South China Sea at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said October 26. President Benigno Aquino will also meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Manila this month and discuss maritime security with Obama at the East Asia summit in Bali on Novembesr 18, del Rosario said.

The US set off China’s ire in 2010 when Hillary, speaking at a regional summit in Hanoi, called resolving the competing claims to the sea ‘a leading diplomatic priority’. That drew a rebuke from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who said internationalising the incident with US involvement ‘can only make matters worse and more difficult to solve’.

“There are challenges facing the Asia-Pacific that demand America’s leadership, from ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to countering North Korea’s provocations and proliferation activities to promoting balanced and inclusive economic growth,” Hillary said in Honolulu on Thursday.

The US has longstanding security alliances with countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, which it aims to enhance, and faces a balancing act as it seeks to deepen regional integration.

Nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam are simultaneously attracted by Chinese commerce and concerned by what they consider Chinese belligerence.

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Obama to China: Behave like "grown up" economy

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By Matt Spetalnick and Doug Palmer

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama served notice on Sunday that the United States was fed up with China‘s trade and currency practices as he turned up the heat on America’s biggest economic rival.

“Enough’s enough,” Obama said bluntly at a closing news conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit where he scored a significant breakthrough in his push to create a pan-Pacific free trade zone and promote green technologies.

Using some of his toughest language yet against China, Obama, a day after face-to-face talks with President Hu Jintao, demanded that China stop “gaming” the international system and create a level playing field for U.S. and other foreign businesses.

“We’re going to continue to be firm that China operate by the same rules as everyone else,” Obama told reporters after hosting the 21-nation APEC summit in his native Honolulu. “We don’t want them taking advantage of the United States.”

China shot back that it refused to abide by international economic rules that it had no part in writing.

“First we have to know whose rules we are talking about,” Pang Sen, a deputy director-general at China’s Foreign Ministry said.

“If the rules are made collectively through agreement and China is a part of it, then China will abide by them. If rules are decided by one or even several countries, China does not have the obligation to abide by that.”

Even as Obama issued the veiled threat of further punitive action against China, it was unclear how much of his tough rhetoric was, at least in part, political posturing aimed at economically weary U.S. voters who will decide next November whether to give him a second term.

Obama insisted that China allow its currency to rise faster in value, saying it was being kept artificially low and was

hurting American companies and jobs. He said China, which often presents itself as a developing country, is now “grown up” and should act that way in global economic affairs.

The sharp words between the U.S. and China contrasted with the unified front that Asia-Pacific leaders sought to present with a pledge to bolster their economies and lower trade barriers in an effort to shield against the fallout from Europe’s debt crisis.

The members of APEC, which accounts for more than half of the world’s economic output, said they had agreed on ways to counter “significant downside risks” to the world economy.

That followed an appeal by Obama, seeking to reassert U.S. leadership to counter China’s growing influence around the Pacific Rim, for a commitment to expand trade opportunities as an antidote to Europe’s fiscal woes.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, in Honolulu to consult with APEC leaders, said the euro zone upheaval risked sweeping the world economy into a “downward spiral” that all countries had a stake in resolving the crisis.

TRADE LIBERALIZATION PROMISED

APEC said in a final communique: “We recognize that further trade liberalization is essential to achieving a sustainable global recovery in the aftermath of the global recession of 2008-2009.”

The communique also expressed a firm resolve “to support the strong, sustained and balanced growth of the regional and global economy” — a clear reference to U.S. concerns about a huge trade deficit with China’s export-driven economy, fiscal problems in developed nations and the low savings rate in the United States.

In another bow to U.S. pressure, APEC committed to reducing tariffs on environmental goods and services to 5 percent as a way to promote green technology trade, overcoming China’s resistance to the idea.

Differences persist among APEC members — a point hammered home by U.S.-China tensions — and the question remains how far leaders will be able to go in turning promises into action. Many, Obama included, will face resistance to opening markets further to foreign competition.

Obama’s public denunciation of China’s policies came as he faces pressure at home, from Republican presidential contenders as well as fellow Democrats, for a tougher line on Beijing. But U.S. leverage is limited, not least because Beijing is America’s largest foreign creditor.

Though Obama acknowledged a “slight improvement” in the value of China’s yuan, he insisted it was not enough.

The United States has long complained that China keeps its currency artificially weak to give its exporters an advantage. China counters that the yuan should rise only gradually to avoid harming the economy and driving up unemployment, which would hurt global growth.

Hu was quoted by Chinanews.com in Beijing on Sunday as saying a big appreciation in the yuan against the dollar would not help U.S. trade and unemployment problems.

The yuan inched up against the dollar. Dealers said Hu’s comments in Honolulu indicated that China had no intention of letting the currency rise faster in the near term.

U.S. ENGAGEMENT

Obama declared U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region as “absolutely critical” to America’s prosperity. By harnessing the potential for expanded trade with the world’s fastest-growing region, Obama hopes he can create U.S. jobs to help him through a tough reelection fight in 2012.

Obama’s drive toward a pan-Pacific free trade zone — the signature U.S. achievement of the summit — got a boost when Canada, Mexico and Japan said they were interested in joining talks now under way among nine countries, and they agreed to complete the detailed framework in 2012.

The Philippines was discussing the matter, U.S. officials said.

The Transpacific Partnership adds momentum to Obama’s pledge to double U.S. exports, made more urgent by the virtual collapse of the Doha round of trade talks. A free trade zone in the region would outstrip the market size of the European Union. But for Japan, such a deal faces major political obstacles at home.

Yet there was little promise of immediate economic dividends as such trade deals often take years to take effect.

Obama is seeking to assure allies of a U.S. “pivot” as China flexes its economic and military muscles in Asia and beyond. But leaders may doubt whether Washington can avoid being distracted by economic woes at home and foreign policy priorities like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

(Reporting by Reuters APEC team; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Stella Dawson)

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