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State of the Union speech, as heard by China, India, France, Israel...

State of the Union coverage in the world's newspapers says as much about the specific concerns of other countries as it does about what President Obama actually said.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / January 25, 2012

President Obama gestures during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday night.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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When journalists from around the world report on a speech by a sitting US president – such as President Obama’s state of the union speech last night – they do so with their own particular reading public in mind. The effect, for a global reader, can be confusing. Did Mr. Obama really say all of this in one speech?

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For Chinese readers, Obama is reported to have boasted that the US is not, repeat not, declining.

For Indian readers, Obama promised to take on China and other nations that were engaged in theft of US intellectual property.

For Israelis, Obama promised an “ironclad” commitment to the state of Israel, as well as promises to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

For South Africans, Obama gave a feisty speech, but was largely ignored by a Republican Congress who headed for the exits.

For the French, Obama was announcing his roadmap for reelection, while for the British he gave a populist speech promising a fairer America.

From a closer reading of his one hour and six minute speech, Mr. Obama does appear to have said all of these things, and a few more. But the fact that the press in each country has its own idea of what is newsworthy in a state of the union should not be surprising. It speaks volumes about how US foreign and economic policy affects that country, for better or worse.

China’s interest in America’s future makes sense. China is the US’s second-largest trading partner, and America’s ability to kickstart its economy is crucial for China’s own prosperity. US economic weakness is bad for Chinese business.

Small wonder, then, that the China DailyBeijing’s main English-language newspaper – focused its attention on Obama’s confident statement, “The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe."

"Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he said in his prime-time address.

Indian papers, meanwhile, saw in Obama’s tough words against intellectual piracy a reflection of its own rivalry with China. Both India and China have emerged as new economic and manufacturing bases, as more established economic powers in Europe and the America’s have slowed down. Both India and China have been competing for business and for resources in Africa, and both see themselves as the voice of the world’s impoverished, symbolized in their membership in the BRICS group of new economic powers (including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

But for India and China, power is a zero-sum game, and India revels in any sign of trouble for China.

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