Obama’s ‘missed opportunity’ as China flexes muscles

Obama’s ‘missed opportunity’ as China flexes muscles

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - Most Asia-Pacific leaders, themselves blooded in political trench warfare, sympathise with US President Barack Obama's unwillingness to desert his Washington fox-hole while grand strategic shifts take place on the other side of the world.

But there is unease among many countries that the policy paralysis in Washington could cause casualties far and wide - the more so if the US government's default time-bomb blows up in mid-October.

With Obama absent from a pair of Asian summits this week, China took the spoils on an empty battleground.

President Xi Jinping stressed the expanding reach of China's trade and investment across Asia at a moment when several countries such as US ally Singapore fretted that the United States appeared dangerously distracted.

"I'm sure the Chinese don't mind that I'm not there right now," Obama told a White House news conference Tuesday, castigating the Republicans over the budget crisis.

Obama denied that his failure to come to Asia would inflict "lasting damage", calling the United States "the one indispensable nation". But he conceded: "I should have been there."

Asia security expert Carl Thayer of Australia's University of New South Wales concurred that Obama's no-show at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Bali, and at an East Asia summit opening Wednesday in Brunei, was a "missed opportunity".

He said the president could have personally pressed US economic and military interests, with the next Asia summit not coming for another year.

As it was, Obama's presidential imprint was missing from talks in Bali on a grand trade pact with 11 other economies called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

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