U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Hiroshima, Japan, was symbolically important for historical reasons. It is also an example of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to manage old partnerships and solidify new ones as it rebalances its strategic focus to Asia. But the U.S. is not alone in eyeing countries in the region as potential partners.
Looking Back to Look Ahead: The U.S.-Japan Alliance in Today’s Asia
Following Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May, Sheila Smith wrote that, symbolism aside, many still see the U.S.-Japan alliance as a Cold War artifact. But the strategic bargain struck during the Korean War serves a far different purpose today, as the U.S. and Japan have adjusted to new geopolitical currents in Asia.
North Korea’s nuclear provocations earlier this year pushed the U.S. and South Korea to begin talks in March on deploying the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) advanced anti-missile shield to South Korea. J. Berkshire Miller wrote that the consultations had long been delayed due to South Korea’s concern that the system could anger Beijing, which fears it could be used as a deterrent against Chinese missile capabilities. Regardless of how the talks turn out, Seoul’s need to balance its security partnership with the U.S. against its economic relationship with China will continue to be one of the greatest challenges for the administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Australia’s military alliance with the U.S. has been a cornerstone of its foreign policy, Ben Schreer wrote in December. But despite signs that Canberra might weigh its options when it comes to dealing with China, the country isn’t moving away from its close defense relationship with the United States, but rather seeking to maintain ties with both countries.
President Barack Obama came into office hoping to transform U.S.-Pakistan ties. But his efforts have largely proved unsuccessful, Michael Kugelman wrote in June. His Pakistan policy was doomed by a fundamental reality: Security issues will always find a way to dominate the agenda, but the security interests of the two countries do not align.
In September, Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit communist-ruled former foe Laos—a small yet geopolitically important country. In January, the Lao ruling party leadership underwent a major shake-up, with potential implications for U.S. ties. But, Bertil Lintner wrote in March, to expect Laos to become an ally in U.S. efforts to contain, or even balance, China’s influence in the region would be unrealistic.
The growing closeness between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sends some very mixed messages. Following the U.S.-hosted summit in February, James Bowen asked: Is the relationship bright and hopeful, or just illusory? Although U.S.-ASEAN ties are, for now, a marriage of convenience, Bowen argued that they shouldn’t be—and need not be forever.
Asia’s Other Options
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “tilt to Asia” has taken on new importance recently, as Moscow looks eastward for new economic and diplomatic opportunities. Following the Russia-ASEAN Summit in May, Nikolas Gvosdev wrote that despite this new push, numerous hurdles stand in the way of deeper Russian engagement with Southeast Asia.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Iran in May, pledging to establish a new era of relations with Tehran built on closer economic cooperation. Iran also expressed its support against North Korea’s development of its nuclear weapons program—a significant concession for Seoul, as it seeks to further isolate Pyongyang. But, J. Berkshire Miller wrote at the time, the bottom line remains: The South Korea-Iran relationship is centered almost entirely on mutually beneficial economic cooperation.
With relations between Israel and Western countries increasingly contentious in recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has looked toward major Asian countries to lessen its dependence on the West. In January, Frida Ghitis wrote that, though Israel still views the West as its ideological and diplomatic home, its pivot to Asia is already yielding dividends that lessen the sting of the barbs coming from Europe and the United States.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to India last October was the second summit-level meeting she had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the span of a month. But, Saurav Jha wrote following the meeting, the success of this burgeoning German-Indian partnership will depend on the strength of the economic glue that binds it.