Economics is at core of Obama's Asian tour
President Obama has asserted that China's growing economic muscle doesn't pose a threat. The same day, he traveled (these evening) to Singapore, and grappled with the question of whether the US is part of the problem in the current global crisis. Singapore has been traditionally pro-American, but conflict and disillusionment have grown steadily.
Obama, born in Hawaii and raised partly in the East, views himself as more in tune with Pacific culture than were previous US presidents.
See Washington Post's Timeline of Presidential trips to China
In Asia on an eight-day tour to reassert America's influence in the world's most economically buoyant region, Obama came to Singapore from Tokyo for a gathering of 21 Pacific Rim nations, an annual event that this year has put some of America's own policies in the line of fire. .
A chorus of complaints about American trade policies largely drowned out grumbling over China's turbo-charged export machine and threatened to put Obama on the defensive at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Obama had initially planned to arrive in Singapore after dinner Saturday but changed his schedule at the last minute to attend a banquet of heads of state here. He arrived in time to eat and change into this year's official APEC attire, a high-collared linen shirt billed as "Asian fusion" by summit organizers.
Since leaving Washington Thursday, Obama has sought to show that he is more in synch with Asia than his predecessors, describing himself in Tokyo as "America's first Pacific president" because of his upbringing in Hawaii and time spent in Asia as a boy, when he lived with his American mother and Indonesian step-father in Jakarta.
Hard economic facts, however, also have made Obama something of a Pacific supplicant. China is now America's biggest creditor, holding more than $1 trillion of U.S. debt. And while the U.S. economy clambers slowly out of a deep slump triggered by last year's financial crisis, Asia has rebounded with vigor. Asian economies will grow by nearly 6% next year, compared with 1.5% for the U.S., according to the International Monetary Fund.
The United States remains by far the world's biggest economy. Its gross domestic product is five times larger than China's. But momentum is clearly moving Asia's way. China's economy, already surging this year by more than 8%, is expected to expand by 9% in 2010.
While in Tokyo, Obama underlined the region's importance to the future economic well-being of the United States and said China's growth will help, not hurt, America's prospects. Endorsing free trade as the best engine of growth, he pledged to start negotiations over possible membership in an obscure trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
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Negros Oriental, Philippines