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An endangered legacy
Matteo Dian

US relations with Japan under President Barack Obama can be divided into several phases. During the first phase (2009 to March 2011), and particularly during the tenure of former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, the Obama administration had a difficult relationship with the DPJ-led government, which tried to promote more autonomy for Tokyo in the bilateral relationship. The Fukushima disaster and Operation Tomodachi helped to improve the atmosphere in the alliance. The return to power of Shinzo Abe in 2012 led to a new alignment of political priorities. Obama and Abe worked to consolidate the US–Japan alliance and promote negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Moreover, they drove significant progress in historical reconciliation, as testified by Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and by Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor, both in 2016. As of early 2019, this progress appears endangered by the policies promoted by the Trump administration which, despite attempts to reassure Tokyo, appears unpredictable in the realm of security and dangerously oriented towards protectionist trade policies.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Atul Bhardwaj

This chapter explores the maritime approaches of Presidents Obama and Trump in the Indo-Pacific region, against the backdrop of the continual rise of China’s modernising navy. It is argued that from 2009 Obama made the US Navy the linchpin in his Asia Pacific strategy, a policy choice to which Trump from 2017 added more marine machismo. More than a foreign policy shift, Obama’s ‘Pivot’ to Asia from around 2011 represented a fundamental reorientation of the US Navy from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This charting of a new course by American sea forces was not only aimed at revitalising US foreign policy, but also stemming its own decline. The chapter also asks if naval engagements in the South China Sea in particular, and a continued reliance on American sea power more broadly, is sufficient for Washington to protect its empire from challenges presented by continental China.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Promises and perils
Prashanth Parameswaran

The Obama administration’s approach towards Asia included an increased focus on Southeast Asia, which it saw as important in its own right but also to the advancement of wider US interests in the region. Yet as this chapter argues, by the end of Obama’s time in office, his administration’s record in Southeast Asia appeared mixed. The Obama years saw some notable successes, including institutionalising greater attention to the region and investing more in multilateralism and people-to-people ties. However, it also exhibited serious limitations, such as difficulties in confronting the reality of China’s rise in Southeast Asia, crafting a comprehensive regional economic approach, and articulating a clear vision for dealing with growing democracy and human rights challenges. In its first two years, the administration of Donald Trump built upon some elements of Obama’s regional legacy within its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy, while departing from it and undermining it in others.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Bruce Cumings

President Barack Obama’s historic Pivot to Asia had little appreciable effect on US North Korea policy, other than a dramatic uptick in Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons development programme. Obama’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ failed to halt or even slow North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction but did achieve greater levels of Sino-US cooperation over sanctions towards the regime. It also brought more US weapons and resources to the region – developments of which Beijing disapproved – and closer security ties between South Korea and Japan. Frustrations over North Korea intensified towards the end of Obama’s second term, as bipartisan support for a more assertive policy grew. Obama therefore set the stage for a more aggressive American stance for his successor to the White House, although no one anticipated President Trump’s hostile and violent rhetoric towards the tiny Asian state, only to reverse course and hold two historic summits with Kim Jong-un in mid-2018 and early 2019.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Robert Sutter

Throughout his administration’s first two years in office to early 2019, President Donald Trump, in his foreign policy approach towards Asia and the Indo-Pacific, appeared avowedly unpredictable. In many important respects, Trump pursued strategies which were oppositional to those of former President Barack Obama. Obama had stressed careful deliberation and a measured application of American power; transparency; predictability; and avoiding linkage, i.e. using pressure on one issue to pressure a target government to change its practices on another issue. On the one hand, Trump’s approach has had the advantage of keeping opponents (like China), as well as allies and partners, on the defensive in their affairs with Washington. On the other hand, American engagement in the region has been erratic and episodic. This has involved intense pressure from 2017 to prevent North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, followed by high-level summits yielding few positive results, as well as punitive tariffs against Chinese economic practices that widely impacted other states. Drift has so far characterised Trump’s policies on most other issues.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Autopilot, neglect or worse?
Nick Bisley

This chapter argues that US security policy in Asia is stuck somewhere between inertia and neglect. The United States lacks a coherent grand strategic vision for regional security. Rather, it views things through the narrow prism of bilateral relationships. This has strengthened China’s relative position and is prompting partners to plan for a more diminished US presence in Asia. The chapter first considers the Asia policy Trump inherited from Obama and then sketches out the range of possibilities that Trump’s Asia policy promised and what has transpired. Then it explains why US security policy can be described as continuity by neglect. The chapter concludes with an assessment of the consequences of this policy and how it is accelerating a significant transformation of Asia’s regional order.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Deepening ties and securitising cyberspace
Maryanne Kelton and Zac Rogers

During his two presidential terms, Barack Obama’s core political allegiance to liberal internationalism worked towards the promotion of rule of law, free trade, and democratic values at the centre of US foreign policy throughout the Asia Pacific. At the same time, his pragmatic realism aimed at securing the United States’ hard power position in the region. This approach extended to deepening ties with regional allies and fostering the growth and corporatisation of US cyber capability. On both counts, he found a willing ally in Australia. Obama’s specific legacy, then, was to consolidate US–Australia political and economic relations while simultaneously strengthening security ties across all strategic domains, with cyber security, space and maritime collaboration key features. The Trump administration’s derision for international norms, regimes, organisations and across related areas generated concerns in its first two years for Australia, especially regarding the sustainability of the liberal international order. Australia remains a willing US partner, but feels discomfort with the unpredictability of some of Trump’s policy choices.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Obama’s Legacy and the Trump Transition

This edited volume explores the political, economic and security legacies former US President Barack Obama leaves across Asia and the Pacific, following two terms in office between 2009 and 2017. The aim is to advance our understanding of Obama’s style, influence and impact by interrogating the nature and contours of US engagement throughout the region, and the footprint he leaves behind. Moreover, it is to inform upon the endurance of, and prospects for, the legacies Obama leaves in a region increasingly reimaged in Washington as the Indo-Pacific. Contributors to the volume examine these questions in early 2019, at around the halfway point of the 2017–2021 Presidency of Donald Trump, as his administration opens a new and potentially divergent chapter of American internationalism. The volume uniquely explores the contours and dimensions of US relations and interactions with key Indo-Pacific states including China, India, Japan, North Korea and Australia; multilateral institutions and organisations such the East Asia Summit and ASEAN; and salient issue areas such as regional security, politics and diplomacy, and the economy. It does so with contributions from high-profile scholars and policy practitioners, including Michael Mastanduno, Bruce Cumings, Maryanne Kelton, Robert Sutter and Sumit Ganguly. The volume will be of interest to students and scholars of the international relations of Asia and the Pacific, broadly defined; US foreign policy and global engagement; the record and legacies of former President Barack Obama; and the foreign policies of the administration of President Donald Trump.

Oliver Turner

This chapter begins by exploring the ideational and material foundations of the United States’ modern-day presence across the Asia Pacific. Since the early to mid- nineteenth century the United States has pursued a position of imperial hegemony throughout the region, to secure an American Pacific framed by the perceived civilisational values and physical authority of the American self. As a result, the Asia Pacific has long been understood in Washington to constitute an extension of US territory and identity. The chapter then turns to the presidency of Barack Obama, to demonstrate how his policies and worldviews were heavily informed by centuries of embedded logics about the United States and its role in the Asia Pacific. It then assesses what the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency reveal about the historical legacies of the United States’ enduring regional presence in the post-Obama era. Key legacies of the American Pacific for US administrations remain manifest as routinely unquestioned truths about the United States as a local actor throughout a distant region. An ever-expanding reach of US influence and authority has led to an ever-expanding sense of responsibility to sustain and defend itself there.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
German Responses to the June 2019 Mission of the Sea-Watch 3
Klaus Neumann

The European responses to irregularised migrants in the second decade of the twenty-first century have been qualitatively new not so much because of the often-celebrated cultures of hospitality in countries such as Germany and Sweden, but because of acts of solidarity that have challenged the prerogative of nation-states to control access to their territory. I discuss elements of the public response in Germany to the criminalisation of one such act, the search and rescue (SAR) operation of the Sea-Watch 3 in the Central Mediterranean in June 2019, which led to the arrest of the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, by Italian authorities. I argue that while the response to Rackete’s arrest was unprecedented, it built upon a year-long campaign in support of private SAR missions in the Mediterranean, which drew on the discourse of rights and was therefore not reliant on a short-term outpouring of compassion. Rackete’s supporters have also been energised by alternative visions of Europe, and by the vitriol reserved for her by followers of the populist far right.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs