Obama Shifts Attention To Asian Pacific Region

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President Obama arrives in Indonesia on Thursday for a conference with Asian leaders. The event forms part of a long trip to the region by the president, who is using it to highlight his policy of switching America's focus to the Pacific, which he believes to be the best source of trade and jobs for the U.S. in the coming century. NPR's Anthony Kuhn talks with Melissa Block from Bali.


From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.


And I'm Melissa Block. President Obama arrived in Indonesia today, the latest stop in a 10 day trip across the Pacific. He's used the trip to send a message that the U.S. is shifting its attention to the Asia Pacific region, both for economic and security reasons. That includes the announcement yesterday that the U.S. will deploy 2,500 Marines to Australia.

Some observers see that move and this trip, in general, as an effort to contain the region's pre-imminent power, China. To discuss what China makes of all this, we turn to NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is in Bali covering the president's visit.

And, Anthony, China has been voicing some concern about these U.S. moves, including that plan to post 2,500 Marines in Australia. Do they see it as a power play that threatens them in the region?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: They don't speak like they feel very threatened. The foreign ministry's line was a very gentle sort of questioning of whether beefing up military alliances in the region was the right thing to be doing in light of the general shambles that the world economy is in.

I think the more instructive remarks came from Chinese President Hu Jintao to President Obama in Honolulu recently, when he said, look, we understand that the U.S. does have interests in Asia, legitimate interests. We just ask that the U.S. play a constructive role and that the U.S. recognize that China has its legitimate interests in the region, too.

BLOCK: And, Anthony, tell us more about the U.S. efforts to strengthen those alliances with China's neighbors.

KUHN: The U.S. has been focusing particularly on Southeast Asia in the past year or so. Secretary of State Clinton was in Manila this week promising to bolster that alliance and offering more Navy ships for the Philippines and the U.S. has been conducting more military exchanges with Southeast Asia nations, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

BLOCK: And what's China been saying about that?

KUHN: Well, China has a lot of disputes on its borders. It has disputes with Japan and the East China Sea with five claimants in the South China Sea and it feels that U.S. involvement there complicates those matters and that the U.S. and these neighbors are basically using each other to increase their leverage on China.

BLOCK: So, Anthony, given all of that, how would you expect China to adjust to a more muscular U.S. presence in the Asia Pacific region?

KUHN: Well, China is not going to change cooperation with the U.S. as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. It knows it's one of the most important bilateral relationships which really have a global impact. Also, it saw this time coming quite a while ago. It knew that cooperation with the U.S. on counter-terrorism in the wake of 9/11 was essentially just an anomaly. It was a break, a respite from other conflicts over Tibet, Taiwan and things like that. And now, the two sides have to just find new things to cooperate on. It's not something that was unexpected.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is in Bali covering President Obama's visit to Indonesia. Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thanks, Melissa.

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