Although the US was pre-occupied by the Middle East in 2013, its long-term intention is to rebalance towards East Asia. Meanwhile, Europe is deepening its own strategic engagement with the region.
At first glance, the gap between Europe and the US on the rebalancing towards Asia narrowed in 2013 as the Obama administration executed a shift of its own back towards the Middle East. In particular, Secretary of State John Kerry made the Middle East the centrepiece of his foreign policy and appeared relatively uninterested in East Asia. But despite Kerry’s focus on the Middle East, the broader trend of rebalancing continued, driven largely by the Defense Department and the White House. In fact, the aim of the intensified US diplomacy in the Middle East was to fix specific problems in the region – such as the Iranian nuclear programme and the Israel–Palestine peace process – in order to dramatically reduce or at the very least reshape its role. Thus, in the medium to long term, the intention is still to rebalance US engagement towards East Asia.
Europe increasingly recognises that it has a stake in a successful US rebalancing towards Asia. For instance, an inadvertent conflict between China and Japan would directly threaten the global economy and the post-World War II international order. On the economic front, if the Obama administration cannot secure Trade Promotion Authority to finalise and ratify TPP, it may be impossible to ratify TTIP. Thus Europeans continue to look for ways to increase their co-operation with the US in Asia. The leaders of several EU member states, including France, pushed the issue of Asia in meetings with their American counterparts. The Netherlands pushed to include Asia in the Working Party on Transatlantic Relations (COTRA). High Representative Catherine Ashton visited East Asia five times (compared to three visits by Kerry).Nevertheless, much remains to be done. In time, the refocusing of US diplomacy on the Middle East may well be seen as a temporary diversion from the strategic shift towards Asia.