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Obama To Focus On Economy During Asia Trip

Helen Tobin |
November 4, 2010 | 11:58 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

President Obama (Creative Commons)
President Obama (Creative Commons)
Following a midterm beating Tuesday night, President Barack Obama will turn his focus to foreign policy, as he begins a four-nation swing in Asia on Friday. 

Obama will visit four democracies that he believes are crucial to America’s economic recovery in his only extended trip outside the country in 2010.  The foray will take him to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, all countries where he is viewed more favorably than he is at home. 

The President will work to convince officials in those countries and at two economic summits that he has not been weakened politically by the midterm losses.  He will also use the 10-day trip to show leaders that free trade, an issue that has divided Democrats, remains a central part of his ambitions on the continent. 

"The United States was not as present in the region as our interests dictated we should be," Thomas E. Donilon, Obama's national security adviser, said in a recent interview. "We had a vision, and now we're at the center of the emerging security and economic architecture in Asia. ... We are not going to be the administration that lets the rise of Asia pass us by."

Obama will speak on his first day to the U.S.-India Business Council. The appearance is designed to present India as a place that will create U.S. jobs, not just take them in the form of outsourcing.  This is an important message following midterm elections where the disappearance of jobs overseas was a critical issue.  

Obama also said in his news conference he would be taking American CEO’s along with him on the trip, in the hopes of helping open foreign markets to more businesses.

Notably, Obama will not travel to China, but the country’s economic, political, and military rise will be part of the agenda in every country the president visits.  Officials in India will want to discuss China’s strengthened ties to rival Pakistan, while South Korean leaders will address China’s support for an increasingly aggressive North Korea.     

"I think most everyone in Asia appreciates the need for a cool-headed, constructive diplomacy between the United States and China in the current environment," said Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, at a recent briefing. "We're also working closely with a number of states in the Asia-Pacific region, most prominently to underscore the strong US commitment to remain an active and engaged diplomatic, political, security, and economic player."

The most personal part of the trip for Obama will occur when the president visits Indonesia, where he spent four years of his childhood. Aides expect a large and enthusiastic crowd when Obama delivers an address in Jakarta, the nation’s capital.  The president is expected to talk about how the country stands as an example of Islam and democracy peacefully coexisting. 

Donilon called the president, “a person of the Pacific.”

"These countries, these cultures, are of deep interest to him,” Donilon said.  “He understands these places in a way I don't know if any American president has."

Reach reporter Helen Tobin here.



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