President Obama's so-called pivot to Asia has always been more theoretical than tangible, chronically the next item on a White House to-do list overrun by a barrage of crises elsewhere in the world.
But White House officials insist a push years in the making is now on the verge of producing real results, as they devote massive political capital to getting Obama the Trade Promotion Authority needed to ease the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact.
"This is the most significant thing we could point to, in terms of redefining U.S. policy in the region," a senior administration official told the Washington Examiner of the president's approach to Asia. "You can call it a pivot — you can call it whatever you want — it is undoubtedly a big deal."
Even after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington last week to press lawmakers to back Obama on trade, a White House victory is hardly guaranteed. Obama is having tremendous difficulty convincing Democrats who say the agreement would hurt American jobs and the environment to back the trade deal, and a growing number of House Republicans have voiced concerns about granting the president the greater authority under Trade Promotion Authority required to ensure its passage.
Part of the White House argument to Democrats isn't just that they are impeding potential economic growth but also undermining what the president wants to be a central part of his legacy.
Obama once dubbed himself "America's first Pacific president" and has repeatedly warned of the consequences for the region if China is allowed to "write all the rules." China is not involved in the trade pact.
Yet some analysts said passage of the wide-ranging trade deal would not serve as a cure-all to what has ailed the Obama administration in Asia.
"It's a good start. Does it dramatically change Asia's perception of the United States? No," said Michael Auslin, a resident scholar and the director of Japan studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
"The problem is that they never really articulated what that role would be or how this would be a comprehensive new strategy. They raised the bar of expectations so high — I think a lot of people were disappointed when things did not change. There was a vacuum that people filled with their own hopes."
As the Obama administration labors to close the deal on trade, China has moved to reassert its standing globally. In addition to aggressive military maneuvers, Beijing has received the backing from Western nations for a China-led Asian development bank, despite objections from the White House.
China also has free-trade deals in place with many of the nations involved in the TPP talks.
As such, analysts say China has little incentive to go along with Obama on trade, even if the rest of the region's most powerful nations sign on.
Ultimately, Obama argues his trade blueprint would closer align Asian nations to Western standards, countering China's aspirations to surpass the U.S. as a global superpower.
"We want to make sure that you [e.g., China] are not manipulating your currency," he told the Wall Street Journal last week. "We want to make sure that you are not, you know, having state-sponsored organizations subsidize and effectively dump goods into our markets and undercut our prices. There are just a whole range of rules that we want to make sure they're abiding by. And we want to make sure that the other countries surrounding China are abiding by them as well."