WASHINGTON — On the stump this fall, President Barack Obama boasted that he had “brought more trade cases against China" than his predecessor had. In an ad, he asserted that his challenger “never stood up to China." During a debate, Obama said he expanded trade with other Asian nations “so that China starts feeling more pressure" to play by the rules.
The contest with Mitt Romney is over, but the contest with China is only gathering steam. After a political campaign spent talking about how tough he was with Beijing, the newly re-elected president departed for Asia on Saturday for his first post-election overseas trip, a whirlwind swing through China’s backyard that is fraught with geopolitical implications.
With the election over, the White House has softened its language and presents the trip not as an explicit attempt to contain China but as the next stage of its so-called pivot to Asia, reorienting U.S. foreign policy after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward the economic and political future of the Pacific. On the cusp of a second term, Obama sees such a shift as a mission for the next four years and a possible legacy.