Asia 'pivot' left out of Obama foreign policy speech

WASHINGTON - In his wide-ranging foreign policy speech on Wednesday, United States President Barack Obama said surprisingly little about Asia policy.

The Asia Pacific "pivot", or rebalance, strategy that is seen as a hallmark of his administration's foreign policy platform, was not mentioned even once.

But in his speech to graduates at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, Mr Obama did employ some language that was bound to raise the ire of Beijing.

For instance, he cited China's growing economic and military might as among the "new dangers" in a changing world.

"Russia's aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China's economic rise and military reach worries its neighbours," Mr Obama said, without giving specific examples.

He also alluded to China's aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea territorial disputes, noting: "Regional aggression that goes unchecked - in southern Ukraine, the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world - will ultimately impact our allies, and could draw in our military."

There was no immediate response from Beijing.

On the South China Sea disputes between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, Mr Obama reaffirmed Washington's support for a code of conduct between the claimnants, and said international law was the right path to resolving such disputes.

He acknowledged, however, that it was hard to persuade Beijing to use the decades-old United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to resolve the maritime disputes when Washington has not ratified the treaty.

Mr Obama called on Congress to ratify UNCLOS, saying: "American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else."

Singapore played a leading role in the successful conclusion of UNCLOS in 1982, which remains one of the most successful multilateral negotiations ever conducted. Over 160 countries have since ratified the convention with the US being a notable exception.

On the broader aspects of US foreign policy, Mr Obama stressed that the US will continue to be a world leader even if it will be more careful about when troops are deployed.

"US military action cannot be the only - or even primary - component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.