Or, as a senior State Department official suggests, was Kerry simply saying that the US, which has played a key role in Asia's security and prosperity for decades, will be cautious not to do anything that might jostle the region? "Anything that could upset [what we've helped accomplish in Asia] has to be looked at very carefully" – including a potentially unsettling military buildup, says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Whether the Asia pivot is "real or rhetoric" will be answered in the coming months, regional analysts say – as the US addresses the simmering territorial disputes in the seas of Southeast Asia, as it signals the diplomatic attention it intends to give the region, and as it moves ahead, or not, on an ambitious regional trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
For US officials, the pivot never meant turning toward something new, since the US has been a Pacific power for more than a century. Rather, they describe it as "refocusing" on the world's most economically dynamic region. And they say the US is taking concrete steps to make the pivot a reality.
In November 2011, Mr. Obama announced plans for up to 2,500 US Marines to be stationed in Australia – a first for the US. And by 2020, 60 percent of the US naval fleet will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last June.