Walter Lohman of the Heritage Foundation said he welcomed intensified engagement with Southeast Asia but stressed Washington has long had deep ties across Asia.
"By terming it 'coming back to Asia' they give the Chinese a talking point to throw back at us, which is 'Welcome. We're glad to have you here and a new boss is in town,"' Lohman said. "The Chinese use that talking point all the time to portray us as newcomers."
Despite the trip postponements, there has been a clear effort lately to intensify the focus on Asia.
One recent success Obama hopes to tout at APEC is the ratification by the U.S. Congress of a free-trade agreement with South Korea. When he visits Bali after the APEC gathering, Obama will become the first U.S. president to participate in the East Asia Summit.
In another sign of growing attention to the region, Obama recently made two senior Asia policy appointments.
Mark Lippert, a longtime friend and adviser who served in 2009 on the National Security Council, was nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs.
The administration also announced Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, would succeed Stephen Bosworth as special envoy to North Korea.
Davies, a career diplomat, will be able to devote full-time attention when he succeeds Bosworth, who had divided his time between the envoy role and his other job as dean of the school of law and diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
Beyond trying to make headway with North Korea, the United States is cautiously debating whether to engage Myanmar after the generals who rule the reclusive state freed hundreds of political prisoners in what Clinton said were "promising signals."