At the center of the internal debate on China was a president, who despite being born in Hawaii and spending childhood years in Indonesia, is less beguiled by China’s history and culture than many of his predecessors were, aides said. Once in office, they said, Mr. Obama came to view China primarily through an economic prism. He is angry at what he sees as Beijing’s refusal to play by the rules in trade, and frustrated by the United States’ lack of leverage to do anything about it.
It is little surprise that Mr. Obama would look east. The president’s Asia, however, lies not on the wind-swept ramparts of the Great Wall of China but in the tropical swelter of Singapore and Indonesia. He identifies more with the languid rhythms of Jakarta, aides say, than with the crackling energy of Shanghai.
An adviser recalled a breakfast at a summit meeting in Toronto in 2010 that Mr. Obama shared with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, which was so relaxed and serene that afterward the president’s hyperactive chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, told him, “Now I see what your Asianness is about.”