Political Chicken and Economic Checkers

The continuing federal government shutdown and looming debt crisis kept President Obama from attending critical Asia-Pacific trade meetings and perhaps signaled the United States is a less reliable partner than China.The empty American chair at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Indonesia speaks of significant external damage wreaked by the continuing federal government shutdown and debt ceiling showdown.

Even though Secretary of State John Kerry replaced President Obama, the absence of our top gun was unmistakable. It left China to dominate this stage and set many Pacific Rim officials to wondering about the financial and political reliability of the United States.

While U.S. politicians bicker over universal health care and domestic spending levels, Asia-Pacific leaders at the meeting talked about the pain of the global economic crisis and the ambitions of the region to become the world's economic engine. They were talking about job creation on a hemispheric scale. 

Before he canceled his trip to remain in Washington while the government was shut down and a fiscal crisis loomed over the debt ceiling, Obama planned on touting a Trans-Pacific Partnership, which The New York Times described as "a trade bloc led by the United States and excluding China." Complex negotiations were to be completed by the end of the year, the newspaper said.

The partnership is intended to address "all economic sectors from intellectual property protection to agriculture to automobiles," The Times reported. It is part of the Obama "Pacific pivot" to focus more energy on building stronger ties in a region with huge potential for economic growth.