In Asia, old US alliances face new strains amid China’s influence – CNBC

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Beijing’s increasing economic influence is a major reason. Southeast Asia’s trade with China is up four-fold over the past decade to $350 billion last year and is forecast to reach $1 trillion by 2020.

Domestic reforms

Indonesia, traditionally a leading voice and strong U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, has signaled a foreign policy shift away from international activism following this year’s election of a populist President Joko Widodo, who said in his election campaign that his focus would be on domestic affairs.

Rizal Sukma, a foreign policy adviser to Widodo, told Reuters there would be a shift in priorities from high-profile diplomacy, though Indonesia would continue to play a role in the South China Sea and support freedom of navigation and trade.

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On the South China Sea, Widodo is unlikely to act without a crisis, said Greg Fealy, an Indonesia expert at the Australian National University. “The U.S. may well find it much more difficult to get any leverage,” he said.

In Thailand, a military coup in May has shaken up its relationship with the United States. Since the coup, Washington has scaled back diplomatic contacts and reduced joint military exercises.

And Malaysia, next year’s chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has seen a wave of Chinese trade and investment and is working with Beijing on upgrading an ASEAN-China free-trade agreement.

“I think there is every reason to be concerned,” over whether ASEAN will stand up to China, said Joseph Liow, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington’s Brookings Institution think tank.

During his trip, Obama will attend the Nov. 10-11 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing and the Nov. 13 East Asia Summit in Myanmar. Perhaps most importantly, he will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 11-12.

U.S. officials say he plans to press Xi about China’s aggressive behavior in pursuit of maritime claims in Asia. “We are going to have to speak very directly and candidly about some of our concerns and our areas of disagreement,” a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters.

U.S. progress

Washington has had its recent successes in the region.

In Asia, old US alliances face new strains amid China’s influence – CNBC}