A Pivotal Visit, Ctd

In Manila today, after signing a military deal with the Philippines, President Obama once again attempted to assuage Chinese fears over his eastward “pivot”:

At a joint press conference in Manila, President Obama insisted the deal was not about thwarting China’s rise. “Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of international disputes,” he said. …

China begs to differ. Locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Japan and others, Beijing sees U.S. involvement in East Asia as unwelcome interference. In an editorial published less than an hour after the agreement was officially signed, state-backed newswire Xinhua blasted the pact, calling the Philippines a “trouble-maker in the South China Sea” and warning the U.S. that its plans may backfire.

Ishaan Tharoor takes a closer look at how China has overshadowed Obama’s entire East Asia visit:

For decades, a Pax Americana, underpinned by U.S. naval supremacy, has authored the status quo in Asia. American military dominance is still a fact, but China’s aggressive military expansion over the past two decades — its defense budget grew more than 12 percent this year alone — calls into question the long-term balance of power. Last year, China commissioned 17 new warships, more than any other nation. It aims to have four aircraft carriers by 2020 and has developed a considerable fleet of nuclear submarines. In the next few decades, China’s ability to project naval power will extend deep into the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. …

China’s build-up comes alongside an increasing number of diplomatic spats between China and its neighbors over disputed territories, particularly islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea. Tensions with the nationalist government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the Senkaku islands, known by the Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands, have flared dangerously in the past year, with Japanese and Chinese aircraft and vessels engaging in dangerously provocative maneuvers. Calming Asia’s troubled waters is no easy task, especially for an administration that wants to buttress traditional allies but remains fearful of antagonizing Beijing. Obama’s mixed messaging in Tokyo was evidence of the awkward diplomatic tight rope he has to walk.

Previous Dish on Obama’s trip here and here.