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State of the Union speech, as heard by China, India, France, Israel...

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Jason Reed/Reuters

(Read caption) President Obama gestures during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday night.

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When journalists from around the world report on a speech by a sitting US president – such as President Obama’s state of the union speech last night – they do so with their own particular reading public in mind. The effect, for a global reader, can be confusing. Did Mr. Obama really say all of this in one speech?

For Chinese readers, Obama is reported to have boasted that the US is not, repeat not, declining.

For Indian readers, Obama promised to take on China and other nations that were engaged in theft of US intellectual property.

For Israelis, Obama promised an “ironclad” commitment to the state of Israel, as well as promises to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

For South Africans, Obama gave a feisty speech, but was largely ignored by a Republican Congress who headed for the exits.

For the French, Obama was announcing his roadmap for reelection, while for the British he gave a populist speech promising a fairer America.

From a closer reading of his one hour and six minute speech, Mr. Obama does appear to have said all of these things, and a few more. But the fact that the press in each country has its own idea of what is newsworthy in a state of the union should not be surprising. It speaks volumes about how US foreign and economic policy affects that country, for better or worse.


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