The United States’ absence from two Asian summits was evident as China seized the opportunity to reinforce its influence in the region.
President Barack Obama was forced to cancel his trip to Asia amid the political standoff in the federal government, potentially putting the US’ role in the region at risk.
But Obama insisted Tuesday that his empty seat at the two meetings would not hurt his policy of “pivoting towards Asia” in a bid to contain China’s rise.
Obama said the US remained “the one indispensable nation” and that Asian countries were drawn to its massive economy and its commitment to its security role.
“So I don’t think it’s going to do lasting damage,” Obama told a White House news conference, but added “I should have been there.”
Obama also said that Asian nations would see his absence as part of “the usual messy process of American democracy.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping seemingly dominated the floor in Obama’s absence and forged tens of billions of dollars in trade deals in Indonesia and Malaysia.
During the APEC forum in Bali, Xi took a swipe at one of Obama’s key initiatives for Asia—the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“China will commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties,” said Xi.
Obama acknowledged his absence left more room for China. “I’m sure the Chinese don’t mind that I’m not there right now,” Obama said.
“There are areas where we have differences and they can present their point of view and not get as much of a pushback if I were there.”
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Indonesia and Brunei in Obama’s place after the president cancelled the Philippine and Malaysia leg.
Japan and China, the biggest creditors of the US, pressed Obama to avoid a default amid the political standoff that could lead to a fiscal crisis and hurt the global economy.
By: Maesie Bertumen
Image: Intel Photos/Flickr