In Japan, which is sparring with China and Russia over niggling territorial disputes, Prime Minister Naoto Kan praised Obama for “constantly standing by Japan’s side.” In turn, Obama described the US-Japan alliance as a cornerstone of regional security. Analysts said Obama’s public show of support was intended to remind China that the US is still militarily engaged in Northeast Asia, despite its economic pains at home and a grueling fight in Afghanistan.
“There is no doubt that Obama had China in mind, that he wanted to send a signal that Japan is a very important ally, and that the US could use its position in Asia, through Japan, to counterbalance China,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Such a strategy was more circumspect in India and Indonesia, two potential counterweights on China’s southern flanks. Both countries were flattered by Obama’s keen attention to their economic clout and democratic credentials. But talk of strategic partnerships raised questions over the price of being seen as US outposts against a rising China.
Indian analysts say conservative defense officials, who jealously prize India’s neutrality, are suspicious of US intentions. US military aid to Pakistan, a hostile neighbor, is controversial, to say the least. This is why three defense pacts aimed at boosting interoperability between the two militaries went unsigned during Obama’s visit. But analysts say that doesn’t preclude a joint hedging strategy against future Chinese aggression, if it suits India.