WASHINGTON (AP) — While the Obama administration is making diplomatic progress on some of the Mideast's thorniest security issues, problems are piling up in Asia, a region that President Barack Obama had wanted to play a bigger part in American foreign policy.
Despite efforts to forge deeper ties with China to make East Asia more stable, Beijing's declaration of a maritime air defense zone has escalated its territorial dispute with U.S. ally Japan. The U.S. responded by flying B-52 bombers through the zone on a training mission Tuesday without informing Beijing.
Analysts say the risk of a military clash between the Asian powers has gone up a notch — a serious concern for the U.S. because its treaty obligations mean it could be drawn in to help Japan.
Meantime, relations between America's core allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, have deteriorated. South Korea is bitter over Japan's attitude toward its colonial past and wants more contrition from Tokyo for Japan's use of Korean sex slaves in World War II.
That complicates the strategic picture for the Obama administration as it looks to advance its so-called pivot to Asia and strengthen not just its own alliances, but get its partners in the region to collaborate more.
"The region is moving in a very problematic direction," said Evans Revere, a former senior U.S. diplomat and East Asia specialist. "That's the result of territorial disputes, historical issues, long-standing rivalries and the inability of countries to put history behind them and move forward in improving relations."
Adding to this witches' brew of bickering in the region, Washington is grappling with the threat posed by an unpredictable North Korea. The deal the U.S. orchestrated with Iran to temporarily freeze its nuclear program, despite three decades of animosity, is a stark reminder of the impasse in negotiations with Pyongyang.