November 12th, 2009
12:30 PM ET
4 years ago

Obama departs on 4-nation Asia trip

Obama departs on 4-nation Asia trip.
Obama departs on 4-nation Asia trip.

(CNN) - President Barack Obama embarked Thursday on his first presidential visit to Asia, an eight-day journey that will take him to five cities in four countries.

Throughout the trip to Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea, Obama will emphasize the importance of Asian nations as vital U.S. partners on major issues such as economic growth, nuclear non-proliferation, the war in Afghanistan and climate change, three officials said in a briefing this week.

The presidential itinerary includes formal talks with Asian leaders as a group and individually, a bilateral meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and the first participation by a U.S. president in a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic alliance.

The itinerary also reflects Obama's personal ties to Asia, where he spent part of his childhood. He has with a bilateral meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, where Obama lived from 1967 to 1971.


As the first U.S. president with "an Asia-Pacific orientation," Obama "understands that the future of our prosperity and our security is very much tied to this part of the world," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

It won't be all diplomatic meetings, though. Obama's first trip to China will include a "town hall" style meeting in Shanghai and sightseeing in Beijing, while in Japan he'll meet the emperor and empress, according to Rhodes.

Obama's departure was delayed one day to allow his attendance at Tuesday's memorial service at Fort Hood Army Post in Texas. The revised itinerary cut a day from the stop in Singapore, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier this week.

Obama's first stop will be Tokyo, but on the way he'll take time in Anchorage, Alaska, to speak to troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base during a two-hour layover.

The president will meet with new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Medvedev and Yudhoyono, and also will take part in an APEC summit.

APEC, or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, is a collection of 21 nations that make up more than 50 percent of the world's economic output. The forum sees its goal as "facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region."

Hatoyama and Obama have said they will affirm a strengthening of the bilateral alliance. But the U.S. president will be greeted by a Japanese
leadership that's pledged more independence from the United States and has said it is reviewing a bilateral deal to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps base on Okinawa. The agreement was met with fierce local opposition.

Increasing U.S. exports to a region expected to grow by more than 7 percent next year will also be an important topic, said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.

Asia "already takes about a quarter of our exports, and those exports are expected to increase as the region grows" Froman said. The result could be an increase of "hundreds of thousands" in the current 1.6 million U.S. jobs linked to Asian exports, he said.

The officials were careful to avoid any perception that Obama's presence at the ASEAN meeting would amount to a bilateral discussion with the prime minister of Myanmar, who also will attend.

After years of refusing direct talks with Myanmar, also known as Burma, the United States has indicated a possible re-engagement with the military regime it considers repressive for cracking down on political opposition, including the National League for Democracy led by detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The statement we're trying to make here is that we're not going to let the Burmese tail wag the ASEAN dog," said Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council's senior director for East Asian affairs. "We're going to meet with all 10 and we're not going to punish the other nine simply because Burma is in the room, but this is not a bilateral."

In China, Obama will continue efforts to define and strengthen the relationship with the world's largest emerging economy, which has a growing influence in Asia, Bader said.

"We see it as a relationship where we're obviously going to have differences, where we are going to be competitors in certain respects," he
said. "But we want to maximize areas where we can work together because the global challenges will simply not be met if we don't."

Bader cited North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the economy, climate change, human rights and Afghanistan as among the top issues for the China swing. On human rights, Bader said Obama is likely to address "freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of religion, rule of law, and certainly Tibet."

Obama will make clear to Hu that he intends to meet in the future with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Bader said. China, which rejects Tibetan aspirations for autonomy, opposes such high-level contacts with the Dalai Lama.

On North Korea, the State Department announced Tuesday that U.S. officials will travel to the country by the end of the year to seek a
resumption of broader talks on ending the Pyongyang government's nuclear program.

The Obama administration has claimed initial progress in its strategy of forging an international effort including China, South Korea and other countries to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Japan has been asking for a comprehensive solution to North Korea's missile tests and the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s.

North Korea and South Korea reported an encounter Tuesday involving gunfire between two of their naval ships off the Korean Peninsula. No
casualties were reported, and a State Department spokesman downplayed the significance of the incident.


–CNN's Tom Cohen, Kyung Lah and Ed Payne contributed to this report


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. 0 for 4

    International Diplomacy is once again alive within the US Presidency. Why do posters here have a problem with that?

    You can't shake hands with a clenched fist, folks.

    November 12, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  2. Wade

    We already sent them all our jobs... all that's left is for him to turn over our economy... oh wait... he already did that with the porkulous bill.
    Guess it's time for Obama to pay homage to the people that loan us money.

    November 12, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  3. LacrosseDad

    what is he going to apologize for us now ?

    November 12, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. Fools and their freedoms are soon parted

    Is it possible that you can please just stay in DC behind your desk and clear up a few matters before you gallavant again...perhaps the massive unemployment, the soldiers DYING in afganistan...the Unconstitutional health bill....?

    November 12, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  5. Paul from Phoenix

    Maybe during that long flight he can come up with an Afghanistan strategy?

    He has been receiving intel for over 1 year now. It is about time he actually made a decision.

    November 12, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  6. Letha

    Maybe he should stay home and work on this economy and find some jobs. Oh, yeah! We are doing great and have lots of jobs for the illegal immigrants. What are useless person so far.

    November 12, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  7. Allen

    A President who knows what the heck he is talking about when he talks to the leaders of these countries and not one that only got a passport, and had never traveled out of the country until he became Governor of a racist secessionist Southern state. There is no question in my mind that the President will represent American interests and indeed the United States very well.

    November 12, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  8. Carnell From The Motor City!

    Good Luck President Obama! Have A Safe And Productive Trip.

    November 12, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Keep making us proud Mr. President and be safe Mr. President and do apologize profusely for the past actions of untoward AMERICANS.

    November 12, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  10. Angie in PA

    Keep making us proud President Obama and be safe!

    November 12, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  11. midwest liberal

    I just love all these anti-Obama comments. I don't recall any similar statements from Republicans and conservatives when Nero was fiddling on his ranch in Crawford, Texas as Rome crumbled around us.

    November 12, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  12. Larry S

    Thanks for the humor from all of the liberal comments . . .it is enjoyable to see how liberals can only say what they have heard from the liberal media. Keep it going liberals . . . keep showing your ignorance . . . it provides a lot of humor.

    November 12, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  13. Tim

    He's more productive there than he is taking a month off at his ranch in Crawford, TX, like he keeps doing.

    Oh, wait, that wasn't him. He doesn't do that. He doesn't rush into wars and doesn't take troop deployments lightly. He doesn't use the US Military as an extension of his ego.

    That was a different President and different Presidential candidate. (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb.....)

    November 12, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  14. Chris, Charleston, SC

    Good luck, Mr. President. May God be with you.

    November 12, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Steph

    He will represent us well. Have a safe trip Mr. President!

    November 12, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  16. Limbaugh-Palin 2012

    There he goes again. Yet another photo op, this time to Asia! Yesterday it was Arlington Nat'l Cementary, the day before that it was a photo op at Fort Hood.

    Obama shouldn't be gallavanting around in (FILL IN THE NAME OF WHEREVER OBAMA IS GOING TO BE), he should stay (FILL IN THE NAME OF SOME PLACE HE ISN'T GOING) to take care of the American people's business.

    November 12, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  17. TOKYOTO

    It's important that Obama attends APEC & ASEAN. He can work on several problems within the Asian continent in only about 5 days. It's time efficient. And that's good because of all the other things he has on his presidential plate.

    November 12, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  18. PlsBeReal

    Why is it such a bad thing to deliberate on ones action. Especially when it is a life and death situation of many Americans. Did you all forget how we got into this in the first place or are you just a bunch of hypocrites? We got into this situation because the "ONE" before Him did not think it through very carefully before he went into 2 wars. Had he done that, we will not be in the situation we are right now.

    November 12, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  19. Emma

    God be with you, Mr. President.

    November 12, 2009 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  20. Big Daddy

    Take care Mr.President and say hello to my son over in south korea..
    He teaches english there.His college debt is so much here and he can't find a job in the states so,he's been there three years ! Maybe
    you could work on debt forgiveness to our college kids next !

    November 12, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  21. Bluebonnet

    Good riddance – I hope they keep the wondering nomad! Maybe some jobs will be saved here while he's gone! He sure hasn't done anything to help.

    November 12, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  22. sine

    1st president to to do the asian talks they have-–that in itself shows the incompetency of some of our presidents in the past. Thank you Mr.President for once again looking outside of the box. One day this country will appreciate you....perhaps when they sheep vote for republican rule and everything goes to crap again.

    November 12, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  23. File under "Sarcasm"

    Sounds like a perfect time for the President to take an overseas trip to rest up and see some places he hasn't been yet. The elections are over and the House passed healthcare so he doesn't have any campaigning or arm twisting to do.

    Issues like jobs and Afghanistan can obviously wait a little longer while he does some "sightseeing in Beijing". I'm glad he can put all that out of his mind and relax. It's a shame though that he had to cut out a day in Singapore. He probably won't have time now to take in the zoo but I'm sure he'll still pick some trinkets up for Michelle and the kids on Orchard Road.

    November 12, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  24. Barry

    Oh barf. I am a lifelong democrat who had way more than enough of Obama during his campaign. I'm hoping every day that he chooses not to run for a second term so that perhaps a democrat of some substance can take the presidency.

    November 12, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
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