In response to the government shutdown at home, President Obama decided last week to cancel his planned participation in a series of Asian and Pacific summits. Unsurprisingly, the decision has provoked considerable consternation abroad as the United States’ allies fret about American dependability, particularly in the shadow of a rising and increasingly assertive China. Perhaps the most alarmed of Washington’s friends is the Philippines, which views President Obama’s absence from the East Asia Summit (EAS) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings as a significant blow to the American commitment to re-balancing toward Asia (and, arguably, against China) that President Obama has previously pledged.
President Obama’s cancellation is particularly important in light of the legal battle being waged by Manila against Chinese encroachments in the South China Sea. Given the importance of this ongoing arbitration, we felt that the occasion presented the perfect opportunity for a brief primer on developments in the region.