A pivot to Asia was supposed to be one of the signatures of President Barack Obama's foreign policy. But the last Asia trip of his presidency, which came to a close Thursday, has been marred by controversy.
Obama had to cancel a meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte after Duterte called him a "son of a whore." He failed to reach a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a ceasefire in Syria. And he caused an uproar in China by exiting Air Force One through the belly of the plane rather than down a large staircase that would have provided a better photo op.
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Barack Obama, candidate for a Senate seat in Illinois and one of the keynote speakers of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, addresses delegates during the second night of the event at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. More than 4,000 delegates to the convention will nominate John Kerry on Wednesday to challenge President George W. Bush in a November battle for the White House that is essentially a dead heat. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn US ELECTION HB/
Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Barack Obama (2nd R), wife Michelle and their daughters Malia (R), 3, and Sasha (L), 6, spend time in their Chicago hotel room, November 2, 2004. Obama faces Republican candidate Alan Keys in the first Senate race with two African American candidates. REUTERS/John Gress JG
Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) (L), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (2nd L), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) (R) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (2nd R) listen as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 17, 2005. Obama said that Americans are looking for leadership and can do better than what they have gotten from Washington in 2004. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (R) and Barack Obama (D-IL) hold a news conference on a vote raising the federal minimum wage on Capitol Hill in Washington February 1, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) smiles beside Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) at a rally at American University in Washington January 28, 2008. Kennedy, a Democratic icon and a leading liberal voice, endorsed Obama on Monday for the party's presidential nomination and called the young lawmaker an inspirational uniter. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), greets entertainer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, December 8, 2007. Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses for the 2008 presidential election on January 3. REUTERS/Ramin Rahimian (UNITED STATES)
US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) talk during a Martin Luther King Day rally at the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (C) reacts as he holds a baby at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) (L) points to the crowd as Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) looks on after his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) embraces his wife Michelle after giving his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with well-wishers at Hradcanske Square in central Prague April 5, 2009. As long as a potential nuclear threat persists from Iran, the United States will continue pushing plans for missile defense, U.S. President Barak Obama said on Sunday. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger (CZECH REPUBLIC POLITICS)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) meets U.S. Senators Richard G. Luger of Indiana (R) and Barrack Obama of Ilinois (L) for talks at the Prime Minister's official residence in Downing Street in London, September 1, 2005. REUTERS/ Alessandro Abbonizo/ Pool TM/JV
U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, December 22, 2010. From L-R are (standing): Vice President Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, former USMC StaffSgt. Eric Alva, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Ca), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) enjoys a beer with Dakota Meyer on the patio outside of the White House Oval Office, in this handout photograph taken on September 14, 2011 and released on September 15. The president on Thursday will present Meyer with the Medal of Honor for courageous actions taken while serving as a then U.S. Marine Corps Corporal, part of a Marine embedded training team in Afghanistan on September 8, 2009, the White House statement said. REUTERS/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance while the band Earth, Wind and Fire performs at the Governors Ball in the State Dining Room of the White House, in this handout photograph taken on February 22, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama, along with Cabinet Secretaries and Members of Congress, watch a shot during a basketball game on the White House court in this handout photo taken in Washington on October 8, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama eats a nectarine following a town hall meeting at Kroger's Supermarket in this handout photo taken in Bristol, Virginia. on July 29, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a briefing on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while aboard Air Force One en route to New Orleans, Louisiana, in this White House handout photo taken on May 2, 2010 and released on June 7, 2010. Picture taken May 2, 2010. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT ENERGY DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughter Sasha swim at Alligator Point in Panama City Beach, Florida, August 14, 2010. Declaring Gulf Coast beaches "open for business," Obama visited Florida on Saturday and pledged to restore the economy and the environment of the region damaged by the BP Plc oil spill. Obama, on his fifth visit to the region since BP's deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured on April 20, held talks with local business owners to hear their concerns about the impact of the world's worst offshore oil spill. REUTERS/Pete Souza-The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Also pictured are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (R). In the decade since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, U.S. Special Operations Command personnel numbers have doubled, its budget tripled and deployments quadrupled. The Bin Laden takedown is simply the tip of an iceberg of fast-growing, largely hidden action by the United States and its allies. Those with knowledge of such operations say this changing state of warfare could spark a range of unintended consequences, from jeopardizing diplomatic relationships to unwanted, wider wars. Please note: A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured at source. Picture taken May 1, 2011. To match Analysis CONFLICT/COVERTOPS REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama shoots clay targets with a shotgun on the range at Camp David, Maryland, in this White House handout photo taken August 4, 2012. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L to R) , U.S. President Barack Obama, and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final in the Laurel Cabin conference room during the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/White House/ Pete Souza/POOL (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT SOCCER)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 23: U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The historic bill was passed by the House of Representatives Sunday after a 14-month-long political battle that left the legislation without a single Republican vote. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughters Malia (L) and Sasha, watch on television as first lady Michelle Obama takes the stage to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention, in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington September 4, 2012.
REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama walks onstage with daughter Sasha (2R), First lady Michelle Obama (2L) and daughter Malia (L) before giving his election night victory speech in Chicago, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION)
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media as he signs into law S. 337: FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328: Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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And a rising China might make officials there more willing to take risks.
"The negotiating environment for the US is getting more challenging," geopolitical expert and Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer told Business Insider in an email. "The world is more 'multipolar,' and China in particular is getting much more assertive — with the economic (and, in Asia, military) power to back it up."
This, along with Obama's struggles to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, contributes to the difficult conditions Obama has faced during the Group of 20 summit in Asia.
"Even if the US made all the right moves, these would be harder trips than they used to be," Bremmer said.
The Philippines president
Duterte railed against Obama while he was talking to reporters, telling press that if Obama asked him about human rights issues during their meeting, he would curse at him.
Duterte said he would call Obama a "son of a b----" if such a line of questioning was raised.
Obama called off his meeting with Duterte, and the Philippines government issued an apology, saying that the press reporting that Obama would "lecture" Duterte on extrajudicial killings "led to his strong comments, which in turn elicited concern." The incident made headlines in the US as well as Asia.
But Obama canceling the meeting doesn't necessarily signify any trouble with US relations with the Philippines.
"Duterte misspoke," Bremmer said. "He'll do that a bunch. But I'd bet they'll talk and make up before Obama leaves office."
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters that the meeting with Duterte was canceled because the administration didn't want the focus to be on Duterte's controversial comments.
"All of the attention frankly was on those comments, and therefore not on the very substantive agenda that we have with the Philippines," he said.
Obama and Duterte did end up meeting informally on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.
The Syrian ceasefire
There was also hope that Obama and Putin might come to agreement on a Syrian ceasefire at the G-20.
Russia has been supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's civil war, and the US has been trying to mediate between the regime and the opposition, which is demanding that Assad step down. Both Russia and the US are also fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Syria.
In the end, Obama and Putin couldn't close the "gaps of trust" that exist between the US and Russia in Syria, Obama said.
"We have had some productive conversations about what a real cessation of hostilities would look like to allow us to both focus our energies on common enemies," Obama said at a press conference Monday. "But given the gaps of trust that exist, that's a tough negotiation. We haven't yet closed the gap."
Syria negotiations involving the US and Russia are scheduled to continue later this week. But US officials have said that eventually the US might decide that pursuing an agreement with Russia isn't worth it.
The Obama administration has often touted its 2013 deal that was supposed to remove chemical weapons stockpiles from Syria and prohibit Assad's forces from using them against civilians in the future, but a recent United Nations report confirmed that the regime has used chlorine gas multiple times since then.
The landing in China
More negative headlines came with the botched landing in China.
Obama typically exits Air Force One on a rolling stairway flown in by the military, but Chinese officials reportedly told US officials shortly before Obama arrived that he couldn't use those stairs. The US agreed to use a Chinese stairway, but then the local driver was not able to communicate with White House officials, according to The New York Times.
The mix-up resulted in Obama exiting the plane on a smaller staircase from a less-visible part of the aircraft, as he does when he arrives in a location where there are concerns for his safety, according to the Times.
Some in the US interpreted the snafu as a snub from China, and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seized on this embarrassing moment during his national security forum on Tuesday.
"Think of it — lands in Cuba, doesn't have high officials to greet him," Trump said, mocking Obama. "Lands in Saudi Arabia ... and they don't have the high officials to greet him, the highest officials."
Then, in China, Trump said, "They won't give him stairs to get off the plane!"
There was also a tussle when Chinese officials mistakenly tried to prevent Obama national security adviser Susan Rice from walking to the president's motorcade. While the incident was unfolding, a Chinese official said loudly to a White House aide, "This is our country, this is our airport." The story made headlines across China.
While US relations with China are often tense, the pressure might be increasing as China shows it power.
"I don't see China sparring with the US over Obama's visit as anything new — it happens every trip, it's just ratchets up incrementally as China gets more powerful," Bremmer said.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership
The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be key to America's relationship with Asian countries going forward, Bremmer said.
"A lot depends on TPP," he said. "If it doesn't get done, China will become the fall-back leader for Asian economic architecture. And US relations with many countries in the region will slip."
Obama is pushing for the controversial trade deal that would lower tariffs for 12 countries around the Pacific, not including China. Obama is attempting to get the deal through Congress during the lame duck season before he leaves office.
"I believe that we'll get it done, but it's always going to be hard," Obama said Wednesday in Laos. "Nothing is easy in the US Congress right now."
Both Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton say they oppose the deal.
"The whole TPP agreement really isn't about workers, who are taking it on the chin whether it gets concluded or not," Bremmer said. "It's about America's position in Asia."
Obama still has a few months to cement his legacy in Asia. But with the TPP still hanging in the balance and his rocky final trip to the region, the question of whether he'll be able to successfully pull off a pivot is open.