Mind your own business

By Shen Dingli
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail chinausfocus.com, October 18, 2013
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with US President Barack Obama in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept 6 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with US President Barack Obama in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept 6 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]

Leading a responsible nation requires delicate balancing. US President Barack Obama must manage the time he spends on domestic and international politics, so that he does not neglect thorny national issues, or overlook international situations where the United States desires to play an important role.

When a nation's foreign policy is more assertive than its domestic policy, problems can arise. Back in November 2011, Obama told the Australian parliament that "in the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in." Clearly, he has both overstepped and not followed up. But if Obama were able to balance this so-called "pivot" to Asia with domestic concerns, Asia-Pacific nations would welcome the US as a responsible stakeholder in the region. Unfortunately, these days, this is not the case.

In early October, Obama announced he would not be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, the premier gathering of Asian leaders, held on Oct 7-8 in Indonesia. This is not the first time Obama has failed to attend top gatherings of the region's leaders.

Obama appears overwhelmed by domestic problems. He canceled his Asia trip because of the US government shutdown, which arose from his desire to defend "Obamacare," his controversial healthcare program. Promoting universal medical insurance has been part of his party's platform for over half a century.

Republicans may deserve most of the blame for the government shutdown, but as president, Obama shoulders the ultimate responsibility for shaping the nation's agenda and forging consensus so the government does not fall apart. Obama has been pushing the right agenda, but at the wrong time: Obamacare should not be prioritized until the US is able to balance its budget and foster the growth of middle-class income.

Obama's Asia policy suffers from the same excess of ambition and lack of balancing as his healthcare policy. Washington has expressed concern about Chinese vessels conducting economic activity in several Southeast Asian nations' self-proclaimed exclusive economic zones. And the White House worries about China's "assertive" handling of territorial disputes with US allies, including the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea which Japan also claims - and Huangyan, a shoal in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines. By meddling in the Diaoyu Islands dispute, the Obama administration is taking an unbalanced stance in favor of Japan, thus stirring up tensions in East Asia.

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