US President Barack Obama begins a four-nation tour of Asia on Wednesday, putting a litany of domestic concerns on hold for a week. The 11 - 19 November trip centres on the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Singapore, but includes Japan, China and South Korea.
The schedule reflects the growing impact of East Asia for America on everything from the US debt, reviving the world economy, climate change negotiations and nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran.
Experts say East Asia’s importance has grown as the US was preoccupied by the war on terror and as American borrowing from abroad grew significantly. China now holds more US debt than any other country, with Japan in second place. Daniel Sneider, associate director of Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Centre, says these Asian economies “are going to drive the world economy increasingly. This is the dynamic part of the world”.
Obama will also meet Burmese PM Thein Sein on the margins of APEC as part of his administration’s contact diplomacy with the Burmese military junta.
Although he spent much of his childhood in Jakarta and plans to make a trip there later, Obama won’t visit India or Indonesia this time. But India’s President Pratibha Devisingh Patil will get a state dinner at the White House as soon as Obama is back from East Asia.
FACT BOX – TRIP GOALS AT A GLANCE
Obama to reaffirm Japan’s status as key regional security ally and to outline his Asia policy in a speech. Obama administration faces new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama who has said Japan must have more say over US military bases there. Japan’s government is poised to end refuelling support in the Indian Ocean for the US mission in Afghanistan.
APEC conference is a chance for US to re-engage on Asian trade. Also under intense observation is any contact between Obama and Burmese leaders in light of Obama’s new limited re-engagement with that regime while maintaining sanctions against it.
Obama and Chinese officials have a long list of topics to discuss: the economy, Afghanistan and Pakistan, arms control, tariffs, intellectual property law, North Korea and Iran, climate change and clean energy, human rights, democracy, religious freedom, the Dalai Lama, the rule of law and censorship in China. US wants China to move toward a market-based value for its currency. Obama to meet with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, visit sites, attend a state dinner and cultural performances. He may visit Shanghai, host city for 2010 World Expo.
Congress must still ratify Korea-US Free Trade agreement and many Democrats want changes to it. It would be the biggest trade liberalisation since the North-American Free Trade Agreement. Obama to meet with President Lee Myung-bak, assure South Koreans of the US security commitment, talk about North Korea and visit with US troops.
By Brooks Spector
WATCH: CCTV analysis of APEC Summit and Free Trade