Obama departs for four-nation Asian trip, preaching jobs and open markets

Security is tight as India prepares to host President Obama. Obama hopes the trip will solidify economic ties.
By Scott Wilson and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 3:53 PM

President Obama left Washington Friday for a 10-day Asia trip, vowing to "pry some markets open" and search for other ways to bolster the struggling U.S. economy.

The visit to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan comes on the heels of overwhelming Republican gains in the midterm congressional elections, and amid news that the economy added a substantial number of new jobs in October even as the unemployment rate remained mired at 9.6 percent.

Speaking to reporters shortly before he and first lady Michelle Obama departed on Air Force One, the president said this country's financial recovery will depend in large part on strengthening trade and productivity in the face of increased challenges from China and other emerging powers.

"The most important competition we face in this new century will not be between Democrats and Republicans. It's the competition with countries around the world to lead the global economy," Obama said. "Our future depends on putting politics aside to solve problems, to worry about the next generation instead of the next election."

Presidents often emphasize foreign policy during difficult political times at home, and Obama's only extended foray outside the country this year will take him to a quartet of democracies where he is viewed more favorably than he is in the United States.

Obama, who will officially begin the trip when he arrives in the Indian coastal city of Mumbai on Saturday, considers each of the Asian nations he will visit essential to the U.S. economic recovery.

"One of the keys to creating jobs is to open markets to American goods made by American workers," Obama said. "Our prosperity depends not just on consuming things, but also on being the maker of things." He said he wants to double American exports by 2016.

Among Obama's challenges will be convincing his counterparts in Asia and at two economic summits that he has not been weakened politically by the midterm setback and that issues such as free trade, a divisive subject within the Democratic Party, remain central to his ambitions in the region.

"He'll look pretty beaten up," said Douglas H. Paal, a National Security Council official for Asia in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations who is vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "But the practical reality is that the president of the United States is a big deal - defeated in an election or not."

The fact that Obama has chosen Asia represents a far-reaching policy decision that the administration does not want lost on the countries he will visit.

During the transition, Obama's administration-in-waiting began an intensive assessment of the U.S. position abroad to identify where it was committing too many resources and where it needed to devote more. Asia rose to the top of the latter category.

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