Obama Shifts Economic Focus From Europe To Asia

President Barack Obama is meeting with the leaders of Asian and Pacific countries in Hawaii this weekend. The president is expected to use the Asia-Pacific economic summit to emphasize his effort to pivot the U.S. away from Europe and towards the Pacific in the coming century. NPR's Ari Shapiro is travelling with the president and has more.

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President Obama is in Honolulu this morning, where's hosting world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, or APEC. It's the first stop on a nine-day tour that will also take Mr. Obama to Australia and Indonesia. NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: These are familiar stomping grounds for President Obama. He brings his family to Hawaii every Christmas, and as he told a friendly crowd of business leaders yesterday morning:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As many of you know, this is my birthplace. I know that was contested for a while but...

SHAPIRO: But he said this visit is different from all the others.

OBAMA: In all my years of living in Hawaii and visiting Hawaii, this is the first time that I've ever worn a suit.

SHAPIRO: That's not the only reason this trip is different. Mr. Obama came here to affirm a fundamental shift in American foreign policy. The United States is a Pacific power, he said, and we are here to stay.

OBAMA: Understandably, after 9/11, we were very focused on security issues, particularly in the Middle East region, and those continue to be important. But we've turned our attention back to the Asia-Pacific region and I think that it's paying off immediately.

SHAPIRO: That echoes the point other top administration officials have made in high-profile speeches recently. There are many reasons for this shift. One of the biggest is economic. The Pacific Rim is the fastest-growing part of the world. President Obama wants people in this region's booming middle class to buy American. So, his first meeting of the day was with the leaders of eight other countries working on a free trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

OBAMA: The TPT will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number one priority.

SHAPIRO: While the U.S. is the heavyweight on one side of the Asia-Pacific seesaw, China is sitting on the other side growing bigger by the day. And China is not part of this trade deal. In fact, one reason for this agreement is to help counter China's growing economic strength. When a reporter asked why China was not invited into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Deputy National Security Advisor Mike Froman replied TPT is not something one gets invited to; it's something one aspires to. He suggested that this is only a club for people who play by the rules, and the American view is China does not.

MIKE FROMAN: So, I think with regard to China or any other country, it is up to them to determine whether they are ready to consider the high standards that are required of a TPT partner.

SHAPIRO: Americans on the political left and right are pressuring President Obama to deal more firmly with what they see as China's unfair trade practices. Yesterday afternoon, President Obama met one-on-one with Chinese President Hu Jintao. When reporters entered the room at the beginning of the meeting, the leaders addressed the tensions between their two countries in only the most diplomatic way. But later in the evening, Froman said President Obama was more blunt.

FROMAN: He made it very clear that the American people and the American business community were growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with the state of change in China economic policy and in the evolution of the U.S.-China economic relationship.

SHAPIRO: That's about as confrontational as diplomatic-speak gets for a country the U.S. wants to be friendly with. The White House is painting this trip as a valuable opportunity to get trade and jobs for the American people. But it also means trying to manage China, which may be one of America's most crucial relationships in the century ahead. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Honolulu.

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