October 31, 2016

ANNALS OF SMART DIPLOMACY: As Duterte Pivots, Uncertainty Reigns in Asia.

Duterte has upended the balance in Asia, and it remains unclear where the chips will fall in his wake. The Philippine president has had a busy diplomatic schedule of late, with trips to Japan, Vietnam, Laos and Brunei, plus an upcoming visit to Malaysia. So far, these countries have largely adopted a “wait and see” approach toward Duterte, neither endorsing nor condemning his China policy, but the climate of uncertainty is not good news.

According to regional leaders, the United States shares some blame for the uncertainty in the region. . . .

Washington must attend to these regional dynamics if it hopes to be a credible player in Asia. The problem is bigger than Duterte. Obama’s pivot to Asia was good policy in theory, but the follow-through has left something to be desired. Consider the current track record: one of Washington’s strongest Asian allies is led by an anti-American demagogue, China and the Philippines are working toward a mutual understanding on the South China Sea, Malaysia is leaning toward China, and the landmark Pacific trade deal supported by the U.S. languishes due to populism at home.

Relax. Obama and Kerry are on the job.

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