Volume 11, 2009

The inauguration of US President Barack Obama raised hopes and expectations of positive changes in US foreign policy around the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her first official trip, stopping in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China, which helped underline the Obama Administration’s commitment to being engaged in Asia. Moreover, Washington’s commitment to multilateral cooperation was renewed at the APEC Leaders Meeting, while Obama convened the first-ever full ASEAN-US summit.

The bilateral relationship between the US and China got off to a good start, despite the March confrontation between five Chinese government ships and a US surveyor ship in the South China Sea. A meeting between Presidents Obama and Hu on the sidelines of the G20 summit highlighted the progression of positive relations. The inaugural session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue was held in Washington in July, however relations hit an obstacle as the US imposed tariffs on tire imports from China. President Obama’s first-ever trip to China was the main attraction of the fourth quarter, while the Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xu Caihou, visited Washington in December. The December Copenhagen climate talks were another big event as negotiations between China and the US occupied the meeting’s spotlight and ultimately decided its mixed outcome.

There were several significant developments on the Korean Peninsula. On April 5, North Korea launched a “satellite,” a claim deemed suspicious by Washington and Tokyo, who saw it as another ballistic missile test. Diplomacy between Beijing and Pyongyang intensified in honor of the China-DPRK Friendship Year and the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Former President Bill Clinton’s surprise visit to North Korea resulted in the return of detained US journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. President Obama also made his first trip to Seoul in November, renewing US commitments to South Korea.

Democratic Party of Japan leader Hatoyama Yukio led his party to a historic election victory, and became the new Prime Minister of Japan. However, tensions between the new governments in Tokyo and Washington became immediately apparent. US President Obama and Prime Minister Hatoyama met in November, but summitry did little to conceal Washington’s frustration with Tokyo’s conflicting messages about realigning bases in Okinawa and Hatoyama’s pledge to move forward with an “East Asia Community” in order to reduce Tokyo’s “dependence” on the US.

US-Russian relations improved as President Obama traveled to Moscow to meet the political diarchy of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Yet, failure to reach an agreement on the replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), remained the biggest detractor in US-Russian relations.