Obama puts Asia on his agenda. Will it make a difference?
Obama holds meetings with Asian leaders at UN on economic and security issues. But some analysts say he is doing no better than his predecessors at resolving the region's challenges.
United Nations, N.Y.
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On Friday Mr. Obama hosted a lunch for leaders of the 10-nation ASEAN organization of Southeast Asian countries, where he signaled a determination to strengthen the US security partnership with the region – especially as it confronts an increasingly assertive China.
Trade with the region’s growing economies was also on the agenda, with Obama telling the leaders that US trade with their countries is crucial to millions of American jobs.
A day earlier Obama held a two-hour meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, where he focused on economic issues. In particular – and with one eye on pending congressional action – the president zeroed in on US demands for a revaluation of the Chinese currency. Economists estimate that the Chinese renminbi is kept artificially weak by as much as a quarter of its value, a policy that favors Chinese exports but which some US officials (and members of Congress) say costs the US exports and jobs.
It’s an open question, however, whether the Obama administration is really focusing more on Asia than previous administrations did, some Asia analysts say, adding that in any case the administration’s approach so far is not any more successful at resolving some of the region’s most serious challenges.
“This idea that ‘the US is back in Asia’ is a feature of the administration’s script, part of their theme that President Bush had walked away from Asia, but that’s a fallacy,” says Bruce Klingner, a North Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “What can be said is that what they are doing hasn’t had the effect of boosting relations with China, and it hasn’t resolved some of the ongoing problems in the region like Burma or North Korea.”
Both Obama and Mr. Wen had only positive words to say about US-China relations when they came out of their meeting Thursday. Obama emphasized the “cooperation and mutual respect” between the two powers, insisting that the world “looks to the relationship … as a critical ingredient on a whole range of security issues.”