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Obama's two-part message on his week-long trip to Asia

Obama will say that Asia is crucial to answering the world's major challenges – although the US intends to remain a leader across Asia. The president visits Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea starting Friday.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 12, 2009

President Barack Obama answers questions during an interview with Reuters White House correspondent Caren Bohan (2nd L) Reuters Washington Bureau Chief Simon Denyer (3rd L) and Reuters political editor Patsy Wilson (R) in the Oval Office, Monday. The interview was pitched as a preview of the trip he is starting this week to Asia, and especially about China.

Jim Young/Reuters

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Barack Obama makes his first trip as president to Asia this week. He's intent on forging new relationships with emerging Asian countries, including China, and on reinvigorating ties to longtime allies such as Japan and South Korea.

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Mr. Obama is the first American president with what one aide calls an "Asia-Pacific orientation," having grown up in Indonesia and Hawaii. That understanding is behind what will be Obama's dual message: that Asia, as the site of so much of the 21st century's economic growth and political heft, will be crucial to answering the world's major challenges; and that the United States intends to remain a leader across Asia.

It's the second part of the trip's theme that even a message meister like Obama will have to work to convey, some Asia experts say. That will be especially true, they add, when it comes to answering doubts about America's traditional place as the engine for global economic recovery.

"How you're going to revive global growth, what's going to happen with trade, is really going to be the elephant in the room for a lot of these countries, and it's one [topic] where, currently, the US doesn't have a lot to say," says Steven Schrage, an international business expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

"We're reaching a time when this kind of void in US leadership, as it drags on, is being filled by other nations rapidly moving forward," he adds. "It's a pretty ... sharp contrast between the US and Asia."

Obama's seven-day trip – including a summit of Asian-Pacific leaders and another of Southeast Asian leaders – suggests how important Asia is for the US, and for this president in particular. "One of the messages that the president will be sending in his visit is that we are an Asia-Pacific nation and we are there for the long haul," says Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.