SHUT­DOWN SLOWS DOWN PIVOT

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down is en­croach­ing on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of shift­ing at­ten­tion and re­sources to­ward Asia, also called “the pivot.”

The pol­icy’s lat­est ca­su­alty: Pres­i­dent Obama’s visit to Asia, be­gin­ning Satur­day. He is skip­ping vis­its to the Philip­pines and Malaysia, two South­east Asian coun­tries that face grow­ing threats from China’s naval and mar­itime en­croach­ment upon dis­puted is­lands. In­stead, Mr. Obama will visit Brunei, Bali and In­done­sia for re­gional sum­mits.

“Malaysia and Philip­pines are the coun­tries most threat­ened by China in that re­gion,” said one U.S. of­fi­cial crit­i­cal of the snub. “In­stead, the pres­i­dent is go­ing to the play­ground of the rich and fa­mous in Bali and Brunei.”

The Philip­pine gov­ern­ment’s dis­pute with China is cen­tered on the Scar­bor­ough Shoal, which Bei­jing claims as its ter­ri­tory.

A new re­gional chal­lenge, ac­cord­ing to U.S. in­tel­li­gence re­ports, in­volves threats from China against Malaysia’s South Lu­co­nia Shoals, un­der­wa­ter reefs said to con­tain vast re­sources of oil and gas that Bei­jing is eye­ing for its en­ergy-hun­gry econ­omy.

Chi­nese gov­ern­ment mar­itime sur­veil­lance ships re­cently were ob­served cruis­ing near the shoals, and the ac­tiv­i­ties set off alarms among se­nior Malaysian of­fi­cials con­cerned about los­ing en­ergy re­sources to China.

In March, China’s navy con­ducted a ma­jor pa­trol and train­ing mis­sion on James Shoal, a reef 50 miles from the Malaysian coast. The naval task force in­cluded a large am­phibi­ous land­ing ship.

Mr. Obama had been sched­uled to meet in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak. The sum­mit was to have bol­stered ties be­tween the two coun­tries.

Now, U.S. of­fi­cials fear a key South­east Asian friend will be in­tim­i­dated by Bei­jing and drift into the Chi­nese or­bit of in­flu­ence.

“They are very con­cerned about China and rightly so,” the U.S. of­fi­cial said of the Malaysians.

China has claimed 90 per­cent of the South China Sea, bring­ing Bei­jing into dis­putes with most of the na­tions in the re­gion that look to the United States to be a coun­ter­bal­anc­ing force. Those na­tions are grow­ing more con­cerned as they see steep cuts in U.S. de­fense spend­ing.

China re­cently ex­panded a ma­jor naval base with new at­tack sub­marines on Hainan is­land at the north end of the South China Sea. De­fense an­a­lysts say the base is a power-pro­jec­tion tool for China’s ter­ri­to­rial claims.

Of­fi­cials said they hope the pres­i­dent’s speech in Bali on Mon­day will in­clude tough words for China and its mar­itime claims, and of­fer re­as­sur­ances to Amer­i­can friends that the U.S. Navy will con­tinue to main­tain free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in Asia as a coun­ter­weight to China’s grow­ing naval power.

The White House an­nounced Wed­nes­day that the pres­i­dent can­celed the planned stops af­ter dis­cus­sions with of­fi­cials from the South­east Asian states.

Asked about crit­i­cism from of­fi­cials op­posed to the pres­i­dent’s cancellations of vis­its to Malaysia and the Philip­pines, White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokes­woman Caitlin Hay­den de­clined to com­ment.

She said the vis­its were “lo­gis­ti­cally not pos­si­ble” be­cause of the shut­down and were post­poned. In­stead, Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry will lead the del­e­ga­tions to both coun­tries, she said.

“The can­cel­la­tion of this trip is another con­se­quence of the House Repub­li­cans forc­ing a shut­down of the gov­ern­ment,” Ms. Hay­den said, adding that the shut­down is “set­ting back our abil­ity to pro­mote U.S. ex­ports and ad­vance U.S. lead­er­ship in the largest emerg­ing re­gion in the world.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Army Gen. James D. Thur­man, com­man­der of U.S. mil­i­tary forces in Korea, says Py­ongyang’s new road-mo­bile in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, the KN-08, poses a threat be­cause of the dif­fi­culty of track­ing and tar­get­ing the hard-to-find sys­tems.

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