I don't want to be too hard on President Obama yet. After all, he has been in the Oval Office less than a week. Still, if his first two days are any indication, East Asia will end up on the back burner - the last place it needs to be.
The Chinese Communist Party is facing its worst economic crises since the Cultural Revolution. Economic growth fell below population growth in the last quarter (BBC, CNN, and the Washington Post), and given the cadres' penchant for inflating their statistics, the population may have outgrown the economy for the entire year of 2008. To make matters worse, the consumer benefits that have come to other economies from the fall in oil prices have not appeared, due to Communist-imposed directives to keep oil prices high.
Lest anyone think this is merely a problem for the CCP and the Chinese people, the cadres are already trying to divert attention on this failure by rattling their sabres abroad (much like the Brezhnev-era Soviets did). In addition to the usual propaganda on Tibet (John Batchelor and Radio Free Asia), the regime is continuing to project its ever growing naval power (Japan Times and the Weekly Standard), and the espionage network is alive and well (Agence France Presse via Yahoo). Meanwhile, the rest of the free world continues to be asleep (BBC).
I fear the President's East Asia policy will not be centered around Communist China, but North Korea. If so, Nicholas Eberstadt has a good column on how his (Obama's) predecessor fouled up (Weekly Standard). Still, even Eberstadt missed the CCP's role in making North Korea the "bad cop" and reeling in the concessions (BTW, they're at it again - One Free Korea).
It took almost a year before the CCP managed to get President Bush where they wanted him, and Clinton took a little longer. It would be a shame if the CCP were able to get President Obama where they want him, especially if its driven by the latter's indifference.