Glow of success in Myanmar

But first, Obama must make good on earlier promises to Asia

Countries across the globe, including China, have responded positively to US President Barack Obama's re-election, largely because of the hopes and expectations of Obama and the US. This is intriguing, since as far as Obama's foreign policy in general and in Asia in particular is concerned, the president's scorecard during his first term in office has hardly been satisfactory. The "change" that he was expected to bring in seems elusive. There was more continuity than change on Afghanistan and Iran, for all practical purposes. Not surprisingly, there was no Obama flavour in US policy, and things went just the way they alway have in many parts of the world.

Many conflicts in Asia, from the ongoing brinkmanship between China and its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea to the China-Japan spat over territorial claims and fishing rights, have been aggravated because Obama repeatedly changed his stance on crucial issues. These flip-flops surfaced more in Obama's approach towards Asia than towards other parts of the world. For instance, at the beginning of his first term, Obama initiated fresh dialogue with Iran, which failed to yield the desired results. The subsequent U-turn now sees Iran and the West at loggerheads. In the meantime, Iran has moved four years closer to its nuclear programme.

Similarly, Obama's idea of G-2, envisioning China and the US as partners, proved to be a major policy flop. To reassure America's Asian allies and readjust to new realities, Obama announced the US's "rebalancing", or the "pivot" towards Asia, at the tail end of his first term. Apparently, the rebalancing aims to maintain the existing balance of power in the Asia-Pacific by keeping 60 per cent of the US naval forces in the Pacific Ocean, as against 40 per cent in the Atlantic Ocean. However, partner countries of the US are not yet sure about feasibility of the new rebalancing towards Asia or the tangible benefits that may accrue. Dealing with a seemingly indispensable China, which has become the second biggest player in global politico-military and economic domains, would not be easy for the US and its partners in Asia. Moreover the Australian, ASEAN and the US economies are now massively dependent on trade with China, which might prevent them from taking any aggressive step against it. Considering the state of the US economy, its hostile relationship with Iran and worsening affairs in Afghanistan, one doesn't see the rebalancing happening in toto any time soon, unless the geostrategic situation worsens in the region. One may argue that, to a great extent, Obama seems to have validated the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's famous saying, "the President says one thing during the election, something else when he takes office, something else at mid-term and something else when he leaves".

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