TOKYO – Declaring himself “America’s first Pacific president,” President Barack Obama opened his trip to the region today by asserting that the future of the American economy depends more than ever on Asia – and pledging that China’s growth will not come at the expense of its neighbors.
Obama offered only cursory remarks on human rights, an issue that will grow more prominent this weekend as he crosses paths in Singapore with the leader of the Myanmar military junta and then heads to China.
In the only major address he plans to give during his trip, he brought the force of his personal story to bear, invoking memories of a childhood visit to Japan and, in praising Asians as part of the immigrant experience in the United States, related it to his own.
“I am an American president who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia as a boy,” Obama said, mentioning his mother’s years in Southeast Asia. “So the Pacific Rim has helped shape my view of the world.”
The speech was notably short on new initiatives toward Asia. Instead, the president emphasized that the future of the United States’ prosperity is irreversibly tied to the dynamic economies of the region. “The fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more closely linked than ever before,” Obama said.
Obama singled out China as a primary engine for sustaining the world’s economic recovery, saying that the United States welcomes Beijing’s greater role on the world stage and intends to “pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern.”
“So the United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances,” Obama said. “On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.”
To keep the nascent economic recovery going, Obama said, the United States and the countries of East Asia need to make fundamental changes in the operations of their respective economies – with Americans saving more, spending less and increasing their exports, and Asians spending more on housing, infrastructure and increasing their standard of living.