Barack Obama win to sustain Asia pivot as wars fade and post-US election reality sets in
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Walter Lohman, director of Asian studies at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said China is the main long-term strategic threat for the US, but the most immediate foreign policy concern is Iran's nuclear program. A conflict there would suck up resources and could upset what the administration wants to achieve elsewhere, he said.
Fighting in neighboring Syria also shows no sign of abating. Security in Iraq remains fragile, and in Afghanistan, a withdrawal of US combat forces by 2014 leaves it vulnerable to the kind of civil war that blighted the country in the 1990s and led to a Taliban takeover.
Political problems at home could also cramp Obama's outreach to Asia.
His most immediate domestic challenge is an impending showdown over tackling the national debt that economists say could send the world's biggest economy back into recession.
Even before Obama gets to his second inaugural on Jan. 20, he must reach a budget deal with Republicans to prevent a combination of automatic tax increases and steep across-the-board spending cuts – dubbed a "fiscal cliff'' – set to take effect in January.
That would entail nearly $500 billion in defense spending cuts over a decade that could undermine plans to devote more military assets to the Asia-Pacific, where the increased capabilities of Chinese forces pose a growing challenge to US pre-eminence in the region.
China is already acting with growing assertiveness in the seas of East Asia.
Its territorial dispute over islands administered by US treaty ally Japan could trigger a military confrontation between Asia's two biggest economies. This year, China has already faced down the Philippines over sovereignty of a reef in the South China Sea, where the competition among China and its neighbors for fish and potential underwater oil and gas reserves could also sow seeds of conflict.
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