3. Asians had already formed their impressions of the pivot.
And the cancellation won't change them. Countries like the Philippines, which have asked for more U.S. help in their territorial disputes with China, will see Obama's absence as proof that his Asia policy is increasingly adrift. But others will see this year's numerous visits to Asia by U.S. officials -- including three by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel -- as evidence that Washington remains committed to rebalancing. The early October meeting in Tokyo between Kerry, Hagel, and their Japanese counterparts, for example, resulted in the United States receiving permission to base drones and a second early-warning radar system in Northeast Asia. These will help the Pentagon monitor North Korea, and share information with allies seeking to protect their disputed territories from Chinese pressure. On the other side of the spectrum, regardless of whether or not Obama visits Asia, the Chinese will continue to feel that the pivot is an attempt to contain them.
4. China's tensions and territorial disputes with its neighbors will not magically disappear.
The last several years have seen growing concern among Asian-Pacific nations like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines that China is using its military to assert its sovereignty over contested islands in the Pacific. With the Chinese navy conducting exercises at the edge of the South China Sea, even formerly unconcerned nations like Malaysia now have cause to worry. China's refusal at the 2012 ASEAN summit to allow the adoption of a code of conduct for the South China Sea remains a sore spot.
Even if Obama showed up, the spotlight would still be on Beijing -- which needs to recover the influence it has squandered by bullying its neighbors in past multilateral meetings. China's President Xi Jinping may overplay his hand by seeming too domineering. However, if he skillfully portrays China as a responsible and cooperative actor, there will be more of a need for Obama to ensure that U.S. budget cuts don't undermine its ability to promote development, civil society, and security through aid and assistance, military ties, and grassroots programs.
5. Asia's political leaders are adults.
They understand that domestic politics take priority. Asian heads of state have already adjusted to Obama's absence, and look forward to seeing him at the meeting in 2014. And they understand the importance of political theater, whether that takes the form of dramatic negotiations to save the government, or statements designed to scare the public that everything is falling apart. What they do worry about is a United States that reduces its permanent military presence and has no clear policy in Asia to support friends, increase prosperity, and maintain stability. That's what matters -- not Obama's absence at a meeting.