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What Did Pres. Obama Achieve in Asia Tour?

Posted November. 20, 2009 08:47,   


U.S. President Barack Obama called himself the “first Pacific U.S. president” while touring Asia. He aimed to send a clear message of putting priority on Asia to China, Japan and South Korea and more firmly consolidating the U.S. role in the region.

Obama, however, produced few results on this trip. He realized the increasing power of China, now the No. 2 world superpower, and failed to improve shaky ties with Japan in the wake of a more assertive stance by the liberal administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

○ Seamless visit to Korea

Visiting South Korea on the last leg of his Asia tour, Obama reconfirmed the solid bilateral alliance and supported the “grand bargain” proposal of President Lee Myung-bak. Urging a bold decision by North Korea to denuclearize itself, he reconfirmed Seoul-Washington collaboration by announcing a Dec. 8 visit to Pyongyang by special U.S. envoy Steven Bosworth.

On ratification of the free trade agreement, both sides simply agreed in principle to redouble efforts to make progress, heralding tough waters ahead in negotiations on the auto sector.

The New York Times said yesterday, “South Korea quickly proved true the predictions that Korea would be the easiest leg of his Asian tour to Mr. Obama,” noting that as expected, President Lee was more accommodating to the U.S. than China or Japan was.

The daily said Presidents Lee and Obama have been cooperating closely on key issues, including on North Korea’s nuclear program, and that President Lee expressed his affinity for Obama during the visit.

The Wall Street Journal also said Obama promised to make efforts to ratify the free trade deal, which runs counter to arguments made by Congress.

○ Poor results in China visit

Obama made the most effort when visiting China, but critics say he made no specific achievements in key issues. In his summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Obama failed to win Beijing’s support for major issues, including the Iranian nuclear standoff and the devaluation of the Chinese yuan.

Imposing international sanctions on Iran requires global collaboration, but Hu said nothing on this matter. Obama also failed to get Beijing to agree to devalue the yuan before leaving China.

The diplomatic community in Beijing said the two countries used a strategy of putting thorny issues on the backburner among matters of mutual interest.

○ Shaky ties with Japan

Obama took a deep bow when greeting Japanese Emperor Akihito apparently to win the support of the Japanese people. Analysts say he sought to communicate with the Hatoyama administration, which is urging an “equal” partnership with Washington.

Both sides, however, failed to resolve the pending relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, though they agreed to continue dialogue by forming working-level teams.

Following the Obama-Hatoyama summit, however, both sides expressed differing positions. Washington said the dialogue should be limited to discussion on supplementing the 2006 bilateral agreement, while Tokyo said the talks must include the nullification of the existing agreement.

yhchoi65@donga.com triplets@donga.com