"America's first Pacific President"
--President Barack Obama, referring to himself, November 2009 speech in Tokyo.
After writing a story this week about foreign affairs observers in China and their views on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Myanmar, I got out the map. There are some in Beijing, perhaps many, who see Washington's push in Asia and the Pacific as a campaign toward encirclement or, dusting off the Cold War term, containment.
American officials strenuously deny the suggestion, saying they want to engage the region as a whole, including China.
I wondered what it would look like if one plotted out recent trips (I picked 2010 and 2011) to the neighborhood by Obama, Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.
Above is a decidedly unscientific attempt along those lines, with the red dots for Obama, the blue for Clinton and green for Biden. (Again, unscientific -- am sure I've missed something, and this isn't plotted versus two-year periods of previous administrations, etc.) It strikes me that the map's message is in the eye of the beholder. If you throw in Obama's trip to China in 2009, it suggests the blanket approach that the Americans have claimed. And there are, of course, many non-China reasons for trips to places like Pakistan and Russia.
But if you don't trust the United States and see its increased engagement in Asia as a way of hemming in China's rise, well, it might suggest that too.
As we noted on Wednesday:
"When President Barack Obama said Nov. 18 that Clinton would visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, he emphasized 'flickers of progress' by President Thein Sein and American desires to 'empower a positive transition.' He said he'd received support for U.S. engagement from Myanmar's most famous democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.
A senior Obama administration official said later that day, speaking anonymously as a condition of the briefing, that 'it's about Burma, not about China.'
But the backdrop of Obama's announcement suggested that China and its clout in the region were very much on the minds of those in his administration.
Obama announced Clinton's trip while he was attending a summit in Bali, Indonesia, where American officials pushed for an open discussion of China's ongoing territorial disputes with neighbors in the South China Sea. It was a conversation, with Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the room, that China had very much wanted to avoid.
A day earlier, Obama had told the Australian Parliament that the United States had made a 'deliberate and strategic decision, as a Pacific nation' to take 'a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.' While in Australia, he unveiled plans to post a rotating group of 2,500 U.S. Marines in the country."