In doing so, the president will make it clear the Chinese must “follow the rules of the road,” as one administration official put it this week.
High on the list of U.S. priorities is getting commitments from China to enact more flexible currency rate standards to help balance trade; respect intellectual property rights; and adopt a less aggressive military posture in the disputed South China Sea.
For their part, the Chinese are concerned about a budding trade pact between the United States and eight other nations, and they will be closely monitoring Obama’s visit next week to an Australian military base.
Since last year, China has fed the worries of its neighbors with a string of aggressive diplomatic and military moves, including attention-grabbing confrontations in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold valuable oil and minerals and is heavily used for commercial shipping.
The area has been in dispute for decades, with various portions claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. China has made the largest claim, on a U-shaped section that covers almost the entire region.
China’s increasing willingness to throw its weight around has put other countries on edge and spurred them to solicit U.S. assistance. Even Burma, also known as Myanmar, appears to be hedging against the rise of its longtime ally, releasing political prisoners in a bid to appeal to the West.
Danny Russel, senior director for Asia on the National Security Council, said that at the East Asia Summit in Bali next week, the United States and other participating nations, including China, will seek consensus on “international norms and law — freedom of navigation, the right to unimpeded legitimate commerce” and “collaborative efforts to avoid the accidental conflict or miscalculation . . . that could lead to a spike in tensions.”
Small signs of the U.S.-China rivalry for influence emerged even before Obama’s departure from Washington. When U.S. officials said this week that they hoped to ramp up talks on trade and green jobs growth with emerging nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu, Beijing quickly criticized the agenda as too ambitious.
U.S. expectations are “too high” and “beyond the reach” of many developing Asian nations, Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hailong told reporters.
Obama’s trip is part of the administration’sevolving foreign policy vision. Officials have pointed to the winding down of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and said that now is the time to pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region.