In late April, President Obama visits Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia. He should make this trip an "assurance tour," focusing on convincing Asian allies and partners of his administration's unwavering commitment to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Rightly or not, U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region have seen the U.S.'s "rebalance to Asia" as a lost cause under the second Obama administration. Worse, following supposedly weak U.S. reactions toward Syria and Crimea, many countries in the region now question the U.S.'s capacity to enforce the rebalance. The U.S. government's uncoordinated response to the Chinese announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) was an illustration of the Obama administration's drift from the rebalance, raising questions about whether the U.S. is indeed willing to stand by its allies and partners in the face of increasingly assertive behavior by China.
In his stops in Southeast Asia, Obama should focus on articulating the U.S.'s commitment to allies and partners in Southeast Asia in their efforts to peacefully resolve the South China Sea dispute according to the international law. In particular, Obama must make it absolutely clear that the U.S. will regard any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force ‚Äî regardless of whether it is military or paramilitary ‚Äî as unacceptable, and that such an action will come with tangible consequences. This is particularly important as the region nervously watches U.S. diplomatic efforts to roll back the Russian annexation of Crimea and deter Moscow's further attempts to use military force to enter other formerly Soviet countries.
The countries in the Asia-Pacific region have not heard Obama speak about the rebalance since his speech in Canberra, Australia in 2011. While concrete policy measures must follow in order to put substance behind the rhetoric, the re-articulation of Obama's personal commitment in, as well as his vision for, the rebalance in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S.'s enduring leadership in the region is certainly a good start.
Tatsumi is a senior associate of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center.