October 15, 2013
Not even the sharpest media spin can spare the United States from criticism making the rounds in East Asia over President Barack Obama’s inability to show up for the ASEAN-led summit season earlier this month. The contrast could not be clearer. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang stand out as China’s tag team at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders Meeting in Bali and later the East Asia Summit in Brunei, which chairs ASEAN this year. Yet the US-China rivalry for influence and competing interests in Southeast Asia is nuanced and not zero-sum. It is a mistake to read too much into Obama’s absence this time.