This U.S. election is focused on everything from taxes to immigration walls to sexual predation to email servers. Odd that one of the biggest stakes of 2016 — Asia — barely gets mentioned.

When this region does come up, it tends to be all bellicosity all the time. Republican Donald Trump has taken rhetorical swipes at China’s currency, Japanese trade, South Korean security arrangements, a U.S.-led regional trade deal he abhors, Indonesia having the audacity to host a young Barack Obama in the 1970s, you name it. Democrat Hillary Clinton has tried to reassure a region President Obama sought to charm. Generally, Clinton’s message has been “don’t worry Asia, America still likes you.”

Recent events show Asia has doubts, and some big ones at that. Take Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte turning his back on Washington in favor of China’s open checkbook. Duterte called for a “separation” from its longtime ally, prompting U.S. lawmakers to pull the plug on the sale of 26,000 rifles to the Philippine National Police. Washington “is disrespecting (us). Just look at those monkeys!” Duterte screamed.

Or look to Malaysia, where corruption-scandal-plagued leader Najib Razak just scurried into China’s arms as Americans investigate billions missing from his 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund. The same week New York authorities moved to seize luxury properties allegedly purchased with those funds, Najib was in China buying naval ships, securing President Xi Jinping’s protection and telling Western powers to stop lecturing his nation. To make sure Americans got the point, Najib even brought stepson Riza Aziz, who’s being investigated for massive embezzlement scams and even pulled Leonardo DiCaprio into this sordid tale.

In Jakarta, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is reaping the benefits of five meetings with Xi in two years. China has overtaken U.S. investment in the world’s fourth-most populous nation. In the first nine months of 2016, Chinese investors pledged $6.1 billion in investment to help Jakarta improve infrastructure and reduce poverty.

What is the United States doing to court the most dynamic region amid all these deals? Turning inward and bickering as Beijing spreads its tentacles.

For a leader who bet big on reclaiming America’s place in the Pacific century, Obama’s White House had a funny way of showing it. When his predecessor, George W. Bush, came to Asia, it was to lecture leaders about terrorist threats. An odd obsession, considering how Asia increasingly became America’s banker on his watch. As Bush churned out tidal waves of Treasury debt, China, Japan, Taiwan and others bought it to recycle savings. That cash is how the U.S. lives beyond its means — a vulnerability that’s deepened since.

Obama, to be fair, tried with his Trans-Pacific Partnership. He erred by swinging for the fences with an opaque and complicated deal that many in his own party don’t support, never mind the protectionist Trump. Pinning his “Asia pivot” on a single trade pact, one meant to remind China who’s boss, was a miscalculation. TPP is very likely dead.

Granted, Obama had a seriously full plate since 2009 avoiding a depression, fielding myriad international crises and proving to ignoramuses he was born on American soil. But the costs of U.S. distraction are rising as China suavely fills the void in Jakarta, Manila, Putrajaya and elsewhere.

The U.S. is still the biggest economy and plenty important to Asia. There’s ample reason, too, to worry Asian leaders are being played by Xi’s government. Duterte, for example, might not have considered the quid pro quos Beijing will expect for billions of dollars of investment: clear control over disputed islands, fighting alongside Chinese troops, using Philippine airfields. Also, China is a highly unbalanced developing economy laden with debt, dueling bubbles and change-averse leaders. Not an ideal growth engine on which to rely in the medium term.

Asia is America’s to lose in the long run, and the focus of this election suggests advantage China. Just as in the aftermath of 9/11, when a traumatized America overreacted and lost global clout, Beijing has used the eight years since the Lehman crisis to great effect. As Washington elites squabbled and kept Obama from achieving even modest structural reforms, China built many Manhattans’ worth of skyscrapers, many Los Angeles’ worth of highways and many Londons’ worth of stock bourses. China Citic Bank, China International Capital and other giants are snagging the mergers and acquisitions deals that were once Wall Street’s for the taking.

As Beijing makes friends with its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, “One Belt, One Road” project and deep pockets, Washington is forgetting where today’s real economic growth and the markets of tomorrow are located. It’s imperative that the next U.S. leader pivot for real, not just rhetorically, Asia’s way. It’s not just about being tougher on China. It’s about going beyond words and appearances and building a genuine partnership of mutual trust and prosperity.

William Pesek, executive editor of Barron’s Asia, is based in Tokyo and writes on Asian economics. www.barronsasia.com

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