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Obama in Asia: Way to Go America

Filed on November 17, 2009

It’s easy to dismiss US President Barack Obama’s Asian tour as another routine exercise in high diplomacy and plenty of photo ops.

However, this US president, already unique in so many ways, continues to burnish a new path in international relations and engagement with the world. Obama stunned his Chinese hosts yesterday when he turned a visit to the Shanghai University into an impromptu, US-style town hall meeting and question-and-answer session, establishing immediate rapport with Chinese students.

Ever since President Richard Nixon opened a new era of relations with China following that famous visit by his top diplomat Henry Kissinger, every US president has had a tough balancing act to do with regard to China. Even as successive US leaders have tried to maintain working relations with China because of its ever-growing role on the world stage, they have pushed Beijing to reform, regularly tapping on its knuckles for not doing ‘enough’ on political freedom front and civil liberties.

Obama visits China at a time when Beijing’s stock has gone up in all areas. In fact, China has perhaps never been in a better and stronger position in its entire history. It’s seen as the next superpower and is widely respected around the world for growing economic clout and its non-interfering foreign policy. And China holds trillions of dollars in the US bonds, having the sole superpower and the world’s biggest economy where it wants – in its debt, literally! In direct contrast, America’s stock has plummeted around the world largely thanks to its disastrous foreign policy and its meddling in other countries’ affairs. Under Obama’s predecessor, Bush, things got only worse with the US invading Afghanistan and Iraq and its so-called war on terror and blind support of Israel, antagonising the Arabs and Muslims and rest of the world.

This is why when Obama talked about respect for cultures and traditions in Shanghai yesterday, saying no country should impose its system of governance on another, he struck a chord – and not just with the Chinese people. Although Obama waxed eloquent about the “freedoms Americans hold dear” advising China to open up, his tone was respectful, not reproachful like his predecessor. True to his character and conciliatory approach, Obama talked of the US and China being friends, not rivals, calling for greater cooperation between the two giants. This is the way to go. This is the only way the US can mend relations with the world and rediscover its once respected, eminence of leadership. Obama clearly understands this.

He has become the first US leader to engage Burmese junta. Meeting Prime Minister Thein Sein, the highest-level US-Myanmar contact in half a century, on the sidelines of APEC summit in Singapore, Obama directly appealed to the junta for the release of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Again, this wouldn’t be possible under Bush. Way to go Obama. Way to go America!


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