US and Chinese national flags are hung outside a hotel in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
The paralysis in Washington, brought to crisis levels by the Tea Party–led Republican shutdown, is having a crucial impact overseas, underlining the long-term decline of American influence abroad. The beneficiary: China, of course.
Meanwhile, the US-led “Doha Round” trade talks and the long-running American effort to create an anti-China trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are both going nowhere fast. China, taking advantage of its clout in the region and America’s decline, is proposing its own counter to the TPP, namely, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The inevitable decline of American influence and power, of course, is not going to be reversed by US military shows of force, such as the dangerously misguided, counterproductive and reckless interventions in Libya and Somalia this week. That impresses no one, except perhaps gullible viewers of Fox News. In the real world, fewer and fewer people are taking America seriously.
The most obvious result of the shutdown-cum-default crisis in Washington—which has drawn alarmed reactions in both Tokyo and Beijing—is that President Obama canceled his visit to Asia this week, including an important appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Indonesia, where in Obama’s absence China’s president, Xi Jinping, took center stage. As the New York Times reported, ruefully, Xi took over as “the dominant leader at a gathering devoted to achieving greater economic integration,” adding:
Mr. Xi, the keynote speaker, delivered a long, tightly scripted speech that made no reference to Mr. Obama and concentrated on the theme of Chinese economic overhaul at home, and the need for China to have the Asia-Pacific region as a partner abroad.
A panicky-sounding editorial in The New York Times, noting that Xi “grabbed the spotlight” at APEC, added:
The Republican-induced government shutdown and the party’s threats to create another crisis next week over the debt ceiling are causing harm internationally as well as at home. They are undermining American leadership in Asia, impeding the functioning of the national security machinery, upsetting global markets and raising questions about the political dysfunction of a country that has long been the world’s democratic standard-bearer.
China is exercising its economic muscle throughout East Asia, becoming the most important trading partner for country after country in the region that is supposed to be the target of Obama’s vaunted “pivot.” (Instead, Obama finds himself bogged down in the Middle East and Afghanistan, dealing with the Syrian civil war, talks with Iran, a crisis in Afghanistan, and the military takeover in Egypt.) So, as the Times noted: