Although Europe remains the United States’ top trading partner, Obama, who is to leave Friday for a nine-day trip to Asia, is increasingly hitching his administration to the Asia bandwagon. It is a bet that the region’s growing economic dynamism will help propel the United States out of its doldrums and perhaps give a boost to his flagging political fortunes.
“Harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama,” wrote Clinton, who in 2009 made her first overseas trip as secretary of state to several Asian countries. “Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia.”
Obama concluded a whirlwind two-day visit to the summit in Cannes with few tangible achievements. Rather, the administration offered vague pronouncements that the president had shared advice with European leaders based on the U.S. financial crisis two years ago. White House officials trumpeted, as perhaps their most concrete success, a commitment from China to consider making its currency exchange rate policy more flexible to help balance trade.
Strapped for cash and embroiled in his own economic and political morass back home, Obama had little leverage with the Europeans and it showed: The leader of the world’s largest economy often appeared to be a sideline player, content to let his counterparts take the lead in confronting what his aides pointedly called a “European problem.”
Contrast that, however, with the administration’s bolder posturing leading up to Obama’s Asia trip, which is to begin Friday in Hawaii at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and continue to Australia for a state visit and then to Bali, Indonesia, for the East Asia Summit.
A few weeks before Clinton’s essay hit the newsstands, Obama greeted South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the South Lawn by saying: “The United States is a Pacific nation, and America is leading once more in the Asia Pacific.”
Their meeting came on the heels of Congress approving a landmark free-trade agreement with South Korea, which Obama has championed as a way to spur U.S. exports. And aides said that Obama intends, at both Asian summits, to resume negotiations with at least eight other nations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another free-trade agreement.
Senior White House officials said Obama will use his time in Asia to emphasize the message that increased U.S. exports is a critical avenue to creating middle-class manufacturing jobs, a theme that dovetails with his domestic jobs tour.