With Obama MIA, China Touts Multipolar World
Image Credit: flickr/APEC 2013

With Obama MIA, China Touts Multipolar World

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While the cat's missing, the mice will build economic and political ties to hinder U.S. interests in Asia.

The APEC summit in Bali and the East Asia Forum meeting in Brunei went Obama-less due to a Republican-led hissy fit that shut down the US government a week ago. In the meantime, China is pushing its economic interests and pushing back against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

Xi Jingping has been the star of the recent talks in Asia, giving the planet a taste of a new "multi-polar" world. With his talk of a Maritime Silk Road and his suspiciously passive remarks on island disputes, Xi definitely made an impression. Sure, John Kerry made the trip and is doing his level best to shore up support, but he has been overshadowed by China's surprisingly charming charm offensive and Obama's no-show.

Xi's keynote speech at the APEC summit on Monday drove home the idea, with Xi saying that APEC will play a leading role in opening up the world economy. The days of double digit growth in China are over, but long term investment in Southeast Asia means stability for Chinese investments, something the U.S. is currently not offering to China's satisfaction. While Obama sat in Washington and with Kerry trying to allay fears of default, Xi called for closer ties with the ASEAN; ties are one thing but being able to keep island disputes off the docket could affect the entire region.

In fact, China's state media is heralding this switch in attention to a new world order. An editorial in the state-run Global Times said, "Developed countries have enjoyed an advantageous position for too long. Now they need to seriously think about the new situation in the 21st century…Only by doing this can they acknowledge the new order of the global economy."

 This doesn't exactly stop the pivot to Asia, but it's an odd signal for Asian nations looking for stability and a bad mark for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that excludes China, something that the Chinese editorial called a "difficulty for the Asia-Pacific region at large."  Xi alluded to the TPP in his speech, according to Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University, who said the, "TPP is like a small circle which might be against APEC's aim to achieve wide economic integration in the region."

Of course, China isn't the only country that has problems with the TPP, but these recent events could shift China from upset onlooker to direct opponent. China filling the gap could have serious implications for the U.S. This means that countries like Malaysia–which had a turbulent relationship with the U.S. in the 90s–are warming to the idea of a Chinese Asia, especially with US$25 billion in investments over the next five years.

Kerry said on Monday, "I want to emphasize that there is nothing that will shake the commitment of the rebalance to Asia that President Obama is leading." This is cold comfort to Asian stock markets that took a hit due to the U.S. woes. If the U.S. wants to keep the conversation on its terms, Obama is going to need to offer more than political dreams.

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