Friday, March 19, 2010

Obama's Indonesia trip delay: the silver lining

Perhaps the best comments I've read so far on Barack Obama's decision to delay his trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia for the second time in a week have come from Aaron Connelly, a researcher at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, and Ernest Bower of the unrelated Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

Aaron commented last night on Twitter that, thinking positively, the delay of his trip until June "might give everyone more time to improve deliverables".

Ernest Bower echoed Aaron's comments, arguing that there would now be more time to ensure that Obama's progress will involve more than just the usual glad-handing.

And the bureaucracies in all three countries -- the US, Indonesia and Australia -- were working day and night to prepare the substantive elements of the trip. To be honest and fair, a visit next week was going to be a challenge to produce concrete deliverables. Given an extension to June, I expect to see a lot more meat on the bone of the US Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership and President Obama can turn to the US Senate and demand passage of the US Australian Defense Trade Treaty as a return payment for his remaining in DC to finish health care.

Still, there's no escaping the fact that a second delay in the space of a week is somewhat embarassing for the Obama administration.

In Indonesia, there'll doubtless be some disappointment and a nagging concern that the US might not be as serious about rebuilding its relationship with Southeast Asia as it once seemed.

But the most disappointed party has to be Time magazine, whose Asian edition this week feature's a cover story, complete with batik design, on "Obama's return: what Obama's visit to Indonesia means for Asia".

Time will not be best pleased but such are the vicissitudes of publishing a weekly magazine in an era of global 24-hour news. The Economist's Banyan columnist is another of the many disappointed foreign correspondents who had already flown into Jakarta ahead of Obama's expected arrival on Tuesday.

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