Lift a ban on selling it lethal weapons.
TAIWAN: LEFT OUT IN THE COLD
Best friends forever? Not so much.
As China has gotten stronger and more important to the U.S. economy, Washington has become extremely wary of engaging Taiwan as a full security partner — a big pullback from the 1950s and the 1960s, when the two had a formal defense treaty and the U.S. based thousands of troops on what it considered a — if not the — key forward base to keep China at bay.
Today, cooperation is limited to some intelligence sharing, the training of Taiwanese air force personnel in the U.S., occasional security consultations and very restricted arms sales — definitely not the kind of advanced F-16 fighters and diesel submarines the Taiwanese military really wants.
Even so, political scientist Alexander Huang of Taipei’s Tamkang University says Taiwan can play a role in Obama’s pivot — but only if Washington decides to make a clear commitment.
THE KOREAS: STEALTH OVER SEOUL?
Ah, North Korea.
It’s got a new leader, about whom, typically, the world knows almost nothing, a nuclear weapons/ballistic missile program that it likes to trot out every so often to raise regional tensions and a belligerent attitude toward the U.S.
But Obama has a friend in Seoul.
Back in the 1950s, the U.S. fought on Seoul’s side in the Korean War — and contemplated nuking China before it was over. China still supports the North, and Washington continues to have about 28,500 troops in the South. South Korea also buys about 70 percent of its weapons from the United States, and a big payday for an American company might come soon after Obama’s inauguration, when South Korea is expected to formally announce the winner in a $7.6 billion project to build 60 sophisticated fighter jets.
The deal will be South Korea’s biggest-ever weapons procurement. The top contender is believed to be Lockheed Martin’s stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — which after a long run of development problems and cost overruns could certainly use a multi-billion dollar boost. Boeing and European aerospace giant EADS are also in the running.
AUSTRALIA: LIVING WITH THE US MARINES
Australia got one of the first waves from the pivot when the U.S. announced last year it would begin rotating up to 2,500 U.S. Marines through the northern city of Darwin. Now the U.S. is seeking access to an Australian navy base south of the western city of Perth and to bombing ranges in the northern Outback.
Some experts fear the relationship may be moving too fast.
On one hand there is broad support for Australia’s defense relationship with the U.S., so having American Marines was seen as a natural step. But it has also raised concerns that Washington will push for more — something Australia might not be ready for. After all China is central to Australia’s economy, buying a bulk of its mineral and coal resources.
‘‘What worries us is the way in which it seems to confirm that the United States and China are increasingly viewing each other as strategic rivals,’’ said Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University.
‘‘We worry about the idea of the U.S.-China relationship becoming more adversarial,’’ he said. ‘‘America wants to remain the dominant power in Asia, and China wants to become the dominant power in Asia.
‘‘What the rest of us all want is for neither of them to be the dominant power in Asia.’’
AP writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Peter Enav in Taipei, Taiwan, Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Chris Brummitt in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.