POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 12, 2011
President Barack Obama begins a nine-day mission today as a step toward furthering America's role in including this region of the world as an essential element in U.S. jobs and security. His hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation of leaders in Hawaii could not be more appropriate, as no U.S. leader has been as equipped in understanding America's role in applying and solidifying expansion of trade, security alliances and cultural connections.
During his trip to Asia and participation in the APEC summit in Singapore two years ago, Obama promised to strengthen and sustain U.S. leadership in the region.
"And there must be no doubt," he said. "As America's first Pacific president, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world."
Indeed, Obama reached toward Asia early in his administration, welcoming the Japanese prime minister to the White House for the first time in nearly a half century, and setting the first destination abroad for his secretary of state to be Asia. As she did then, top diplomat Hillary Clinton is playing an important role in this week's APEC. Clearly, as Obama described, the peoples of America and Asia are interwoven.
"My own life is part of that story," he remarked in Tokyo during his 2009 trip. "I am an American president who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia as a boy. My sister, Maya, was born in Jakarta, and later married a Chinese-Canadian. My mother spent nearly a decade working in the villages of Southeast Asia, helping women buy a sewing machine or an education that might give them a foothold in the world economy. So the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world."
Much has changed, of course, since those childhood years of Obama. Some members of Congress may sneer today about the president devoting nine days in Hawaii, Indonesia and Australia as the Nov. 23 deadline nears for finding more than $1 trillion in cuts for budget agreement. Critics, though, should grasp the realities that the financial troubles are worldwide, growth in the Asia-Pacific area is burgeoning, and U.S. efforts to counterbalance China in the regional global economy are essential.
Obama cannot turn around his most extensive travel of the year at this point without seeming to give Asia a stiff arm, especially by postponing the Australian leg for the third time. At particular stake is establishment of a Pacific-wide free trade zone necessary to balance China's gigantic trade advantage.
"This isn't a trip to the far-flung corners of Asia," explains Daniel Russel, the president's senior director for Asian affairs. "This is a trip to the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. is very much an Asia-Pacific nation. We're a resident power."
And Barack Obama is the ideal person to be at the helm. No previous president has been more sensitive to the mutual interests and respect of the United States and Asia, and the capability of achieving a lasting and beneficial alliance. He now needs to put his knowledge and sensitivities to the best use. It's time to bring the Asia-Pacific promise he embodies to fruition, for the economic vitality of the nation.