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China Makes Hay as Obama Fades Away

Walter Russell Mead

In another blow to Washington, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced during his China trip that Malaysia would cooperate with the Chinese navy in the South China Sea. The Associated Press reports:

China and Malaysia said their navies will cooperate more in the politically sensitive South China Sea in an agreement signed Tuesday during a visit by Malaysia's leader, who is seeking stronger ties with Beijing as he tries to offset a financial scandal at home. […]

[Chinese Vice Foreign Minister] Liu said Najib agreed with the Chinese premier "to further advance the proper settlement of the South China Sea issue on a bilateral channel and through dialogue." Beijing always prefers negotiating disputes on a one-to-one basis with the countries concerned, so it can bring more pressure to bear.

Liu said the two sides also agreed to enhance cooperation in infrastructure, agriculture, trade, investment and law enforcement, and will work together to build an east coast railway link in Malaysia and an oil and gas pipeline in Sabah. All this cooperation "will bring our relations to a new high," Liu said.

So much for the Asia rebalance. The Obama administration’s attempt to push back against China’s claims in the South China Sea is crumbling before their eyes, as the Philippines and now Malaysia peel off to make friends with Beijing and negotiate separate deals on the South China Sea.

The Obama administration’s last serious claim to geopolitical accomplishment keeps shrinking as the end of his final term comes closer. With Russia, China, Iran and now Turkey looking to gnaw at the foundations of the American world order in the face of the most passive American president since James Buchanan, the question is what’s coming up in the 12 remaining weeks. Nothing good, probably.

Even at this late date, Obama could provide a notable public service by alerting the nation to the growing risks and perils overseas, and helping his successor build a consensus for a more focused and realistic approach to the new world disorder. That, regrettably, seems unlikely to happen.

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