President Obama’s much-heralded “pivot” to Asia two years ago has quietly been downplayed into a “rebalancing”. A host of foreign policy challenges in Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and more recently, the crisis in Ukraine and Obama’s decision to continue the U.S. military role in Afghanistan and south Asia have taken much of the wind out of the “pivot” to the Pacific region.
On top of the competing challenges elsewhere, the Obama Administration has had to respond to demands to restate U.S. treaty commitments to South Korea, Japan and the Philippines in the face of Chinese challenges in the East and South China Seas.
Our Asian allies, shaken by Obama’s perceived “weakness,” insisted that he clearly signal to China that the U.S. would support them, even in their disputes over uninhabited islands that lie atop rich oil and gas deposits.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has successfully orchestrated the Ukraine crisis to bring to power a government that will have no alternative but to make peace with Moscow. But in pulling this off, Putin has also shaken the stability of the gas and oil empire Russia had carefully built for itself in western Europe.
China took all this on board and decided the time was right to secure for itself future access to a new major supplier of natural gas and oil, and a new ally in its future dealings with the U.S. On May 21, Moscow and Beijing did no less than agree on the largest trade deal ever — $400 billion over 30 years, including $92 billion in new jointly financed infrastructure.
This monster deal lays the foundation for Russia to pre-empt European moves to reduce European Union dependence on Russian gas in favor of more reliable sources — a process that will take years. While that shift is underway in Europe, China and Russia will develop pipelines, roads and probably new rail lines to turn Russia into one of China’s most important suppliers of every natural resource imaginable.