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.
The return of the United States to the Indo-Pacific is one of the most significant elements of former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy. He ordered a bold alteration of course, in the midst of an economic storm, to save the crumbling maritime empire against continental China’s advancing influence. As will be shown, this occurred as part of Obama’s efforts to rejuvenate the United States’ Asia Pacific presence, a strategy his successor Donald Trump built on throughout the relabelled Indo-Pacific. Even so, the United States has long
development aid to sub-Saharan Africa. This is just a hint of the variations and complexities in the set of global legacies Obama’s presidency leaves behind.
Obama’s international legacy of 2009–17 will be assessed and debated for years, and perhaps nowhere more so than in his engagements with the actors and institutions of the Indo-Pacific – a region which has only recently become more vivid within American political imaginations in the time since Obama left office, and which is now typically imagined to encompass the actors and maritime boundaries traditionally seen to
security and diplomatic realms of its engagement. Thus for example, though the Trump administration has been reluctant to employ the Obama administration’s “Rebalance” term, which is fairly common for new administrations to do, administration officials have nonetheless referred to the rules-based order and similar notions with different concepts, most prominently the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’. 34 Such visions are rooted in essentially the same organising principle, dating back to the rules-based international order the United States helped build and lead after the
cooperation to secure interests challenged by China in the broader Indo-Pacific region. How far the United States would go in countering perceived adverse Chinese actions throughout the first two years of the Trump administration was determined in part by the region’s uncertain priority in the very full international White House agenda. On a personal level, President Trump carried out cordial interchange with Chinese leaders seemingly at odds with the harder approach of his administration’s avowed strategy.
Early diplomatic successes
President Trump’s unconventional
The question of this volume, as important as it is, is not simply of what legacy Barack Obama leaves in the Indo-Pacific after eight years in office, or, indeed, of how Donald Trump has engaged with that legacy during his first two years in charge. It is of the historical legacies of American power in the twenty-first-century Indo-Pacific of which both Obama and Trump themselves are constituted, which frame and steer their ideas and actions, and which they challenge or reinforce. Individuals and their administrations matter, but so do underlying
Obama, Trump and the Asia Pacific political economy
strategy, and thus it was plausible for him to downplay the costs of withdrawal and emphasise the narrative, popular with his political base, that multilateral trade agreements harm the economic prospects of ordinary Americans.
Abandoning the TPP created space for bilateralism, Trump’s preferred alternative to regional or multilateral trade negotiations. During the 2017 APEC Summit in Vietnam, Trump offered to ‘make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade
security issues in the Indo-Pacific than APEC, but it does not have a more suitable collection of state leaders at the table.
Second, the EAS is an ASEAN-led and ASEAN-controlled grouping. ASEAN member states determined the criteria by which non-ASEAN states are invited to the Summit, as exemplified by the United States’ absence from 2005 to 2010. The United States is invited to the EAS along with the other seven non-ASEAN participants in their capacities as dialogue partners. The prerequisite of signing the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation for EAS participation
Washington’s painful search for a credible China policy
foundations for Trump’s ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ strategy. 36 Under Obama, alliances were strengthened, the TPP was launched, and military shifts were made. The Paris Climate Accord was also proof that successful cooperative endeavours were possible. Still, all this was overshadowed by growing populism, nationalism, authoritarianism, global realignments of power, and a liberal international order in retreat. A certain shift to Asia took place but the idea of the twenty-first century becoming an “American Pacific century” in fact became more remote. By the close of
, Tokyo promoted the idea of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, which entailed the expansion of security cooperation between major democracies including India and Australia. 39 This proposal envisages both an American presence and the development of a network of security relations aimed at balancing the rise of China. Further, it underlined the fundamental political and ideological fault lines dividing China from the United States and its allies and partners. 40 This idea gained considerable traction in Washington. Trump, as well as senior members of the administration