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Obama seeks to reassure Asia of US interest

President Obama's nine-day trip to Asia seeks to reassure America’s Asian allies and partners that the US is committed to strengthening its economic and security ties to the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to APEC Kurt Tong confer before the start of an APEC ministerial meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in Honolulu.

J. David Ake/AP

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With America’s military presence in Iraq winding down by the end of the year yet with jobs dominating the domestic political picture, President Obama is redirecting his attention to the world’s rising economic power house – Asia – with a nine-day trip to the East.

Beginning Saturday the president will host Asia-Pacific leaders in Hawaii – where trade and economic development will be a key topic – before heading to Australia and Indonesia.

The trip’s two-fold purpose: reassure America’s Asian allies and partners that the US is committed to strengthening its economic and security ties to the region, while messaging the American public (and voters) that America’s economic future depends in large part on its ties to the vibrant and fast-growing Asian economies.

Since taking office, Obama has repeated that this will be America’s “Pacific century.” But until now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tumult in the Middle East, and even the threat of a financial meltdown in Europe have kept the administration’s attention to Asia sporadic.

But in a speech at the East-West Center in Honolulu Thursday, in the run-up to the weekend’s APEC summit, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted that the administration is turning its attention to Asia in earnest.

Noting that world events have “lined up in a way that helps make this possible, Secretary Clinton pointed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“After a decade in which we invested immense resources in those two theaters,” she said, “we have reached a pivot point.”

“We now can redirect some of those investments to opportunities and obligations elsewhere,” she added, “And Asia stands out as a region where opportunities abound.”

But is Obama’s Asia focus coming a bit late and leaving the US playing a game of catch-up? Some US foreign policy experts who have visited the region recently say leaders there wonder if the US, despite Obama’s “Asia century” rhetoric, is really intent on building up its Asia presence.


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