November 10th, 2009
05:10 PM ET
13 years ago

Obama seeks to strengthen relations on 4-nation Asia trip

Washington (CNN) - Barack Obama is the first U.S. president who lived in Asia as a child, and that unique perspective will help shape his nine-day trip to the region starting Thursday, U.S. officials say.

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 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.

In addition, Obama's itinerary reflects his personal ties to Asia 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, the 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.

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 will take part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and ASEAN summits.

Increasing U.S. exports to a region expected to grow by more than 7 percent next year will 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.

Also Tuesday, North Korea and South Korea reported an encounter 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.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Hammerer

    Talk about a hypocrite!

    November 10, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. Bluebonnet

    OMG – firing up Air Force One, AGAIN???

    November 10, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  3. typical wingnut

    Gee, why talk to them when you can start a war with them? You wouldn't see George W stooping to diplomacy when he could start an unnecessary war causing hundreds of thousands of casualties.

    November 10, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  4. typical wingnut

    How dare he. Only Palin can pal around with commies.

    November 10, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  5. Willy Brown

    Please stay over there and take Biden, Pelosi and Reid with you. Will use one of your Teleprompters as a president.

    November 10, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  6. Steph

    I like the approach! This is the change we wanted. However, I do miss the axis of evil and wanted dead or alive comments. W made things seem so simple...too bad he wasn't living in the real world.

    November 10, 2009 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  7. Tommygunn

    President Obama makes us look good.....the haters are just JEALOUS because they are made up of "envy and pity".....

    November 10, 2009 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  8. ggb

    Let's see...he may be asking Asia to finance his health care bill and he may be going to apologize to others. Does he not understand what is happening in his own country and that having met recently with Russia, all he has to gain is to continue selling out our country.
    God help us!

    November 10, 2009 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  9. It's Malboro Time !

    Obama sure loves traveling on "his" Air Force One. He can smoke away the transcontinental hours in his private quarters. And the scant staff on AF-1 know that if they want to keep their job - they'll say peep about it. Much harder to do this "at home" in the White House, eh?

    Other than that, STAY HOME for a few days, President Obama - there's LOTS to do HERE - like the economy (remember that pesky little problem?) - and making a decision about Afghanistan.

    November 10, 2009 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  10. victim of republican greed

    While all the right wing crazies are upset that President Obama did not go to Germany, they are now upset that he is going to meet with Asian leaders.

    It sure beats the former president spending his time clearing sagebrush and tumbleweeds from a ranch in Crawford.

    November 10, 2009 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  11. jim

    communication. everyone KNOWS you cannot have peace without communication. again, president obama is attempting to create real planet-wide peace by communicating.

    and yet, the republicans can only criticize that? how is peace a bad thing? when will the republicans start trying to be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem?

    November 10, 2009 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  12. Idiot_Pelosi

    Here we go again. Mr. American Idol wanna be has to spend $$$$ to take AF1 on another abroad trip. Instead of focusing on the DEFICIT, the ECONOMY, and JOBS, num nuts is on another trip where he can pander to others about America's mistakes.

    The only American Mistake was voting this JA into office.

    November 10, 2009 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  13. The real Dave

    This guy is incredible. I guess he feels like everything is just peachy here in the U.S. Maybe he should stay in the white house and focus on how to create jobs instead of adding to his foreign travels at our expense. How irresponsible is this blow hard going to get?

    November 10, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  14. Brian from NJ

    "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, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. "

    What a load of crap! He is a community organizer from the south side of Chicago... this is as stupid as Sarah Palin saying that living in a state next to Russia gives her foreign policy experience... And why do we even need a "deputy national security adviser for strategic communications"? To make idiotic statements like this?

    And please Mr. President... please do NOT say "I'm sorry" or bow and kiss anyone's hand while you're there... please!

    November 10, 2009 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  15. SWS

    If Obama were to meet PM Thein Sein of Burma, he should be aware that the one who really is calling the shots is Gen Than Shwe and no one else.

    He should continue to press for freedom of all political prisoners, including ASSK, amend junta's constitution according to democratic norms and all-inclusive participation in political process and election.

    November 10, 2009 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  16. LacrosseMom

    Brilliant..... diplomacy rather than war! How refreshing!

    November 10, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  17. Scott, Tucson

    Sounds like another one of his World apology tours being taken at our expense. Wonder if he will make his decision on troop reinforcements to Afghanistan prior to his trip or does he plan to think about it while overseas?

    Sounds like obama can take a 03:00 AM phone call, he just doesn't have what it takes to make a decision as what to do about it.

    November 10, 2009 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |

    Diplomacy is alive and well......Our founding fathers would be proud.
    BTW:to all deficit hawks....the only president to leave the USA completely debt free, is Andrew Jackson.......
    The only other President to have this much debt: FDR

    We'll be fine.

    November 10, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  19. Jeff

    Finally a PRESIDENT who can pronounce nuclear, has a global understanding and perspective, and is a statesman instead of a warmonger, "my gut tells me" village idiot escapee.

    November 10, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  20. Jim, Williamsburg, VA

    Stay home and work on what's important to the American people.JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!!! We need action, not words.Talk is cheap;actions speak louder than words. Obama, Gibbs, Axelrod and Emmanual are a disgrace. The best thing they have done is pave the road to a one term presidency. Most Americans are for that;it will happen.

    November 10, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  21. Donnatella

    I just have to laugh when I hear any republican calling someone a hypocrite, that should be the motto of you party along with "If you hate the president join us" the new republican party.

    November 10, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  22. A. Smith

    After Bush-Cheney single handedly destroyed the relationships which America carefully built with allies and neighboring country's around the world, ANY effort and genuine efforts by President Obama's administration are going to be viewed as favorable and productive by world leaders.

    One of the most disgusting remarks of many out of the side of tiny Bush jr's mouth was during a press release when asked if he would meet with the representatives of Iran to discuss ending the war in Iraq.

    Bush callously remarked, 'No, what is there to talk about'?

    What a disgusting remark in regards to all of the wounded and dead soldiers that died and were injured in Iraq at that time.

    A. Smith

    November 10, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |