Washington, August 31 – In advance of President Obama’s trip to Asia for the G-20, the East Asia Summit, and the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Asia-Pacific Security Program Director Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Program Senior Fellow Mira Rapp-Hooper, and Asia-Pacific Security Program Research Associate Harry Krejsa have written a new Press Note, “The President’s Trip to Asia.”
The full Press Note is below:
President Obama will be traveling to Asia in early September for a series of major summits in the region — the G-20 meeting in China, as well as the East Asia Summit and U.S.-ASEAN Summit, both in Laos. The trip carries both symbolic and geopolitical significance. It likely is Mr. Obama's last trip to the Asia-Pacific after working for most of his presidency to rebalance U.S. foreign and economic policy to the region. The G-20’s gathering in Hangzhou comes as U.S.-Chinese relations face lingering tensions. Finally, the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Laos will coincide with the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to the country.
President Obama’s trip to Laos comes as the poor, landlocked Southeast Asian nation seeks to balance outside pressures. The famously secretive and uncommunicative government in Vientiane underwent a transfer of power in April, appearing to set the stage for a gradual diplomatic shift away from one neighbor, China, and toward another, Vietnam. As Vietnam’s economy continues to grow at a fast clip, its political influence in Laos is growing to match the two Southeast Asian countries’ longtime commercial and cultural ties. Thanks to Beijing's aggressive actions in the South China Sea, Hanoi has grown closer to the United States in recent years, and seems poised to nudge Laos in a similar direction.
Growing concern over China’s role in the world will also likely play a leading role in the G-20 summit. Beijing has reportedly pulled out all the stops to make the gathering in Hangzhou a smooth and successful one, but its coercive behavior in the South China Sea and rebuke before an international court earlier in the year could hang over the proceedings. China is expected to emphasize the value of dialogue, suggest how serious it is about completing a negotiated code of conduct, and promote its One Belt, One Road-oriented economic development plan while leaving hard issues for subsequent bilateral talks. Moreover, the debate continues over whether the World Trade Organization’s members should officially recognize China as a market economy, even while anti-globalization sentiment appears to be on the rise in many developed countries. In this context, President Obama will likely use the trip to promote U.S. efforts to balance rising Chinese influence through economic and soft-power initiatives such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and ongoing work to promote development and the rule of law.
The CNAS Asia-Pacific Security Program also recently released a report on Laos, where two of the summits will be held. That report can be viewed here:
The authors of the Press Note are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-457-9409.