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Obama's visit to highlight emphasis on Asia

2009-11-09 15:27 BJT

BEIJING, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will embark on his first Asian trip next week, with analysts saying Asia is weighing increasingly heavily on U.S. foreign policy.

The tour will start in Tokyo and conclude in Seoul, with stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore. While in Singapore, the U.S. president is scheduled to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, as well as his first ever meeting with leaders of the 10 Southeast Asian nations that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.


The president will travel to Asia "to strengthen our cooperation with this vital part of the world on a range of issues of mutual interest," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Kurt Tong, the senior U.S. APEC official, said at a briefing this week that a number of top U.S. officials would attend the APEC summit, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Experts say that speaks volumes about the Obama administration's desire to play a greater role in Asia. In contrast, Condoleezza Rice was Bush's only cabinet official to attend last year's APEC meeting.

Themes will include the global economic recovery, resisting protectionism, regional economic integration and economic growth that is "less prone to booms and busts," according to Tong.

Tong billed the hefty presence of top U.S. officials as a bid to ramp up U.S. participation. "It's really quite a concerted and very enthusiastic embrace of the APEC meetings and APEC as an institution by the United States, as evidenced by that participation," Tong said.

Some experts say that is a major difference from the Bush administration, which was too busy with Middle East concerns to fully engage Asia.

Domestic and Middle East concerns should not diminish expectations for the trip, nor would they distract the administration from playing a greater role in the region, said Andy Johnson, director of the national security program at the Washington, D.C.-based Third Way.

"The Obama administration prides itself on the ability to concurrently (work in) in a number of areas," he said. "The team he put together and the personal focus he will put toward the trip will probably achieve something of substance."

Johnson said each stop of the upcoming visit had its own strategic importance to the United States. There was a growing interaction between the United States and China, and Japan and South Korea were regional allies hosting U.S. forces, so the trip would keep those relationships on a firm footing, he said. The region was also one of the world's most dynamic trading areas, he added.

APEC represented an important group of emerging countries and the United States wanted to ensure shared economic interests, he said.

Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the International Studies School at China's Renmin University, said: "Above all, against the background of the international financial crisis, a visit to Asia, which has been on a sound economic recovery led by countries such as China, is significant for Obama."

The United States had to cooperate with Asian countries in efforts to deal with the nuclear issues in Iran and on the Korean Peninsula, and to face up to the challenge of climate change, Jin said.

He said Asia had now overtaken Europe in its significance to the United States. U.S.-Europe trade accounted for only half of that with Asia and, with China's emergence, Asia was now increasingly indispensable to U.S. geopolitical interests.