Finally, the administration should make all the photo ops, press conferences and joint statements that occasion cabinet-level visits to Asian capitals count for more. If there is, in fact, shared concern over China’s adventurism and excessive claims, that concern should be made explicit. A code of conduct for the South China Sea is a laudable goal; the United States is right to support it. It should be kept in mind, however, that it is one that China has also endorsed, yet appears to be in no hurry to reach. Support for a code of conduct is not enough.
The administration’s activity in Southeast Asia is, in general, a welcome development. President Obama’s cabinet, especially the Secretaries of Defense and State, should be amply represented in the region’s diplomatic architecture. But the activity should display a clearer focus on U.S. strategic objectives. Otherwise, it is merely fulfilling someone else’s strategic vision.
Walter Lohman is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.