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Obama begins 10-day Asia trip

President Obama China, Myanmar and Australia for APEC, ASEAN, and G20 summits

President Obama is Asia for a 10-day trip. He will attend regional summits as a means of implementing his pivot to Asia strategy that redirects U.S. attention to the region.

It will be the first time in two years that Obama will be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, hosted this year by Beijing. China’s growing economic power has many in the region worried about its influence. Washington is also concerned about China’s growing power as a counter to its own influence on the global stage. Beijing, on the other hand, views U.S. interest in the region as a means of containing China’s power.

The president's second stop will be in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where he will meet leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In Myanmar, he is expected to push for humanitarian reforms in the country, where democratic reforms have slowed since his last visit in 2012.

His final stop will be in Brisbane, Australia for a G20 Summit that will bring together as many as 4,000 delegates. Among a host of topics on the agenda will be development, energy, and global institutions.

During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment “The Week Ahead,” Thomas Drayton was joined by Isaac Stone Fish, asia editor at Foreign Policy; and Ed Gresser, executive director of Progressive Economy, for a discussion of the political, military and economic issues surrounding the president’s trip.

“Over the last four or five years, especially since the financial crisis, China has been a lot more assertive,” says Stone Fish. “They do still see the United States as a super power, but they don’t see it as the only super power. Though they don’t actually say it, they now see themselves as equals to the United States.”

Gresser says Obama’s image is not as bad and many think, despite the recent Republican takeover of Congress in the midterm elections. “The president is going out there with a lot of public and congressional backing from both parties.”

The segment also included a report from Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan, who noted that although the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is not officially on the president’s agenda, it’s likely to be a major talking point throughout his trip. The TPP a deal between the U.S. and 11 Asian countries which addresses tariff issues, copyrights, labor standards, and environmental measures. Critics in the U.S. worry that it could give rise to the tyranny of multi-national corporations.

China was intentionally excluded from the TPP, but the U.S. insists it would welcome Beijing if it wanted to join. Chan says Obama’s trip isn’t likely to solve any big problems, but hopes to start the process of rebuilding US-Asia relations that many Asians feel Washington has neglected.

Gresser believes the Senate will also be supportive of the TPP. “In general, there’s pretty good bi-partisan support for the president on this. If he brings home a deal that opens markets, preserves the global internet, raises labor standards, I think it will be well-received.”

Stone Fish adds that the biggest challenge for the TPP is public awareness. He says not many people know what the TPP is and what it means for the average American. He says Beijing is also investing in its new Silk Road Agreement. “On Saturday, Beijing offered $40 billion to start a fund that would help build infrastructure between China and Southeast and Central Asia.”

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown also joined the discussion by satellite from Beijing, saying that China sees itself at the center of the summit’s regional economic integration. “China also wants to see the creation of a vast investment bank that analysts say could rival the Asian Development Bank and even the International Monetary Fund.” The U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Australia, however, are reluctant to sign onto the idea because of concerns about governance and accountability issues. 

Gresser says there are two major incentives for the U.S. to pursue trade deals with Asia. “If we can export more, that will accelerate our ability to grow the economy and put more people back to work.” He adds that it’s also important for the US to be able to shape the economy in Asia in a way that will benefit the United States.

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