With the government shut down, the White House announced yesterday that the President's upcoming trip to Asia, scheduled to begin Oct. 6, will be cut short. Plans to visit Malaysia and the Philippines have been shelved for now, though Obama will still attend the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting of leaders in Bali, Indonesia.
Republicans will undoubtedly accuse Obama of hitting the beach rather than resolving the budget crisis, but the President's decision to keep his commitment to APEC makes sense. Southeast Asia is increasingly critical to U.S. interests, and Obama has made the region the heart of his government's "pivot" of forces and diplomatic personnel to Asia. To make good on that goal, Obama should push forward several critical ideas that would help the region become a better market and trading partner, and that would enhance stability in Southeast Asia. It's doubtful he'll be able to accomplish anything substantive during his abbreviated trip to Bali. But in his conversations with Asian leaders, here's what he need to focus on:
1. Make a Real Push for the TPP
Obama could promise the other leaders at APEC to personally push to resolve the remaining American roadblocks to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a region-wide free trade deal that, if the U.S. agreed to it, would be the largest free trade deal in American history.