East by Southwest

Latin America Holds the Keys to the U.S. Pivot to Asia

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Caracas, Venezuela, July 2014. Jorge Silva / Courtesy Reuters

Speaking in Australia last fall, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged that "American leadership in the Asia-Pacific will always be a fundamental focus" of his administration. And the United States will make use of every element of its influence to strengthen it, he said, including military, economics, diplomacy, development, and soft power. 

Since the United States formally announced its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific three years ago, however, crises outside the region—ranging from the rise of the Islamic State to the turmoil in Ukraine—have sapped the initiative’s momentum. The United States’ regional approach has also notably diverged from China’s. Washington has focused on strengthening diplomatic and military ties with China’s neighbors, recognizing that most of them are wary of Beijing’s growing geopolitical assertiveness. China, meanwhile, has taken a tack that leverages its geographic centrality—it borders 14 other countries—and economic heft by launching an impressive

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