Obama seeks equal partnership in Asia

Author: By Charles Hutzler, AP

In a 40-minute speech today that ranged across the multitude of issues, the
president declared the United States a “nation of the Pacific. Asia and the
United States are not separated by this great ocean; we are bound by it.”

While he offered few specifics on the key issues of trade, Obama reached out
warmly to China ? soon expected to overtake Japan as the world’s No 2
economy ? applauding Beijing’s robust strides as a burgeoning economic
engine.

“We welcome China’s efforts to play a greater role on the world stage, a role
in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility,” Obama
said in the speech to 1,500 prominent Japanese in a soaring downtown Tokyo
concert hall.

It was the fifth major foreign address of Obama’s 10-month presidency,
continuing the sharp break with the unilateral approach that marked
international relations under the Bush administration.

Obama reached out through several personal notes that delighted his audience,
including calling himself “America’s first Pacific president,” referring to
his time in Indonesia, birth in Hawaii and travels in Asia as a boy.

Moving into the substance of his eight-day journey through Asia, Obama was
quick to spurn North Korea’s nuclear belligerence, warning Pyongyang that
the US and its Asian partners would “not be cowed” by the isolated
dictatorship’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

Obama said, however, the door was open for North Korea to come in from the
cold and its deep isolation ? an end to punishing UN sanctions ? if it
stopped building nuclear weapons and scrapped those already believed to be
in its arsenal.

He outlined a possible future of economic opportunity and greater global
integration, but warned that “this respect cannot be earned through
belligerence.”

“It should be clear where that path leads,” Obama said. “We will continue to
send a clear message through our actions, and not just our words: North
Korea’s refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less
security, not more.”

Acknowledging Asia’s growing power and regional perceptions of America’s
parallel decline, Obama aides said Obama’s Asia sojourn was not designed to
reap specific agreements but to show that the US remained very much in the
Asian game.

Obama said Washington would work hard to strengthen alliances in Asia, such as
those with Japan and South Korea, build on newer ones with nations like
China and Indonesia, and increase its participation with a growing number of
Asian multilateral organizations.

Joining with those groups was essential to top-priority American issues such
as creating jobs, a cleaner environment and preventing dangerous weapons
proliferation, he said.

“I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this
region, because what happens here has a direct effect on our lives at home,”
Obama said. “The fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more
closely linked than ever before.”

While most Asian analysts praised the president’s speech, Takehiko Yamamoto,
professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, warned that Obama should not forget
the challenges China “poses to US and Japanese security.”

“The United States has high expectations for closer ties with China,” he said.
“But when it comes to national security, China is a major concern and a
destabilizing factor for the Japan-US alliance.”

After a luncheon with the Japanese emperor and empress, Obama headed to
Singapore for an APEC ? Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation ? meeting and
bilateral sessions with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev and Obama were expected to continue work on a treaty to replace the
START II nuclear agreement that expires on 5 December. Both leaders have
pledged to reach a new pact before year’s end. Administration officials said
the two men also would be discussing attempts to curb not only North Korea’s
nuclear program but also Iran’s perceived ambitions to build an atomic bomb.

In Singapore, Obama also will become the first US president to sit in on the
ASEAN 10 meeting that will include the leader of the military regime in
Myanmar.

The administration has recently unveiled a new policy of directly engaging the
leadership of Myanmar, also known as Burma, while keeping in force punishing
sanctions that so far have failed to convince it to ease its heavy-handed
and repressive methods.

Key to any lifting of sanctions would be the release of political prisoners.

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