The United States is embarking on two weeks of intense diplomacy on Asia as it seeks to rekindle friendly ties with Japan and India, while managing an often fractious relationship with China.
President Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly said it has no strategy to contain China but it has been shoring up relations with neighbouring countries, many of which are nervous about Beijing’s rapid growth.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met Obama at the White House on Sunday, followed by a gala dinner thrown by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will fly out immediately afterward for major talks in Beijing. Clinton will then head to India after a stop in Bangladesh. Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta will also hold their first joint talks tomorrow with counterparts from the Philippines, in a sign of a growing alliance.
Days ahead of Noda’s visit, the United States and Japan announced a plan to pull 9,000 troops from Okinawa, seeking to address resentment over US bases on the island, which has been a key stumbling block between the Pacific allies.
Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, voiced hope Thursday that the agreement would address “questions about the US-Japan alliance” that have risen in recent years amid changing governments in Tokyo. The military deal “dispels any doubts — we’re still the foundation, we’re still number one. We are the foundation for everything the United States does in the Asian-Pacific region,” Campbell told a forum.
While Japan is a longstanding ally, the United States has increasingly looked to boost ties with India. Former president George W Bush signed a landmark nuclear cooperation deal that symbolised a new relationship between the world’s two largest democracies after unease during the Cold War.
Clinton, on her last visit to India in 2011, urged a greater global role for New Delhi and said that the US-Indian relationship would shape the 21st century.
But momentum has since cooled, with some US lawmakers for the first time in years criticising India due to its refusal to fall immediately into line with a US law threatening sanctions on countries if they buy oil from Iran. US businesses have also been concerned as India’s parliament has balked on some of their main wishes, including opening up to foreign retail giants such as Walmart and providing nuclear firms exemption from liabilities.
Daniel Twining, a policymaker on Asia during the Bush administration, said India and the United States initially moved closer due to a shared sense of values and competitors — namely, China. “The US-India relationship has frankly been drifting and there’s angst in both capitals, but the reality is that the things that really bring us closest together, in the near term, are these common concerns about East Asia,” said Twining, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.