Sino-US ties top agenda of Obama's Asian tour

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 November, 2009, 12:00am

Barack Obama's globetrotting has finally brought him to Asia. The US president will have his hands full. The global importance and urgency of the agendas that dominate the region are second to none, except perhaps the two wars that America has been waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. First and foremost, Obama will have to send an unmistakable signal that the US is back and ready to be fully engaged in the region. His predecessor, George W. Bush, was, justly or not, seen as having neglected Asia for most of his tenure as he focused on the so-called war on terror.

As expected, Obama made his first stop in Japan, America's most important ally in Asia. Singapore and South Korea will also merit a 24-hour stay. His attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in the Lion City is indicative of the importance the president and his administration attach to the role Apec members play in helping to revive the world economy. His stop in Seoul will no doubt address the issue of North Korea, which continues to threaten peace and security in East Asia.

But it is in China that he will spend the most time. The bilateral relationship between the two countries has been described as the most important in the 21st century, and rightly so. China has become America's largest banker, but on many key economic and security issues, the two nations are potential rivals. From trade disputes to the value of the yuan, the two countries do not see eye to eye. Global issues such as climate change and world trade imbalances cannot be negotiated, let alone resolved, without the participation and agreement of the so-called Group of Two.

Without doubt, hawks in Beijing resent the influence the US has traditionally exercised across the Pacific. But a re-engaged US can also help to ease tensions, especially those from territorial disputes, in the region. This should, at least for now, work in everyone's favour, including China's. If the trip can help lay the foundations for ensuring China's peaceful rise and America's re-engagement in the region, it will have been a success.