But the path forward for Obama remains tricky, as his administration seeks to acknowledge China's rights as a rising superpower and urge them to improve their human rights record and push for more fair trade practices.
"[The trip] is not just promoting human rights and democracy, but making sure we cement our relationships throughout the region in many ways that are a counterpoint to China," says Mark Kennedy, who leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. "And the South China Seas disputes are one of the great tinder boxes left on the planet, and how we address those issues will be vitally important in the decade ahead."
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.