US President Barack Obama was sworn into office on Sunday for a second four-year term that is not expected to contain any major changes in tone or policy toward Asia.
With US first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia as witnesses, the president took the oath in the Blue Room of the White House using a family bible. It was a small and quiet ceremony — conducted by US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — without speeches or hoopla.
A huge public inauguration, with nearly 1 million spectators and costing US$170 million, was to take place yesterday on the steps of the US Capitol.
Obama was set to use the globally televised event to deliver a short inaugural address laying out goals for his second term.
Specific policies — including stricter gun control, new immigration laws and a plan to deal with the looming deficit — will be detailed in Obama’s State of the Union speech before both houses of the US Congress on Feb. 12.
It is at that time he will mention policies affecting China and Taiwan, but they are unlikely to differ in any significant way from the past four years.
White House insiders say that the US administration will remain supportive of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) efforts to ease tensions with China and improve cross-strait relations.
“We will continue to work to strengthen US-Taiwan relations,” one of Obama’s foreign policy advisers said.
There will be new efforts to build a more cooperative relationship with China, but objectives — military, economic, diplomatic and security — will remain the same.
Top members of Obama’s team — US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell — will leave the administration in the next few weeks.
However, while their replacements may bring changes in style and emphasis, they are unlikely to alter policies.
US Senator John Kerry, who has been nominated to take over as US secretary of state, is noted for his care and caution rather than bold new ideas and tactics.
Likewise, former US senator Chuck Hagel — nominated to be the next US secretary of defense — is more likely to be “steady” than imaginative.
While his nomination still faces some opposition, confirmation is near-certain.
US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Mark Lippert — a member of Obama’s inner circle — is staying on.
Campbell’s replacement is not yet known, but former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia Michael Schiffer and former top Senate staffer Frank Jannuzi are both frequently mentioned for the job.
Regardless, the center of foreign policy power will remain in the White House with Obama and US Vice President Joe Biden making the big decisions themselves.
National Security Council (NSC) Adviser Tom Donilon is staying on for the second term and will continue to be a major influence as will be NSC Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel.
“Nothing about Obama’s choices to head his second-term foreign policy team suggests that major strategic changes are afoot,” former diplomat Joe Barnes said.
Barnes, now with the Baker Institute, believes that China will continue to present a “quandary” for US policymakers.
Writing in the Baker Institute Blog, he says China is both a trading partner and potential future rival.
“We may expect the Obama administration to continue what might be called a ‘hedging strategy’ that both emphasizes increased cooperation with Beijing and the cultivation of countries like India which might in the future serve as an important partner in constraining China’s ambitions,” he says.
Under the US Constitution, the president must take the oath of office on Jan. 20 — but when it falls on a Sunday, a small private ceremony is held in the White House and the big public event is held the next day.
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