Obama Trip Spotlights Asia, But Can U.S. Refocus?

President Obama returns to Washington Sunday after an unusually long, 10-day trip to Asia. The president is keen to spread the word that the U.S. is shifting its focus to the region, which he sees as a major source for economic growth and new U.S. jobs in the coming century. Host Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Bali, Indonesia, about what the trip achieved.

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President Obama is back in the U.S. after spending nine days in Asia. The focus of the trip was to show an increased U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region, for the sake of both the economy and national security.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from the Indonesian island of Bali to talk more about it. Good morning, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi there, Audie.

CORNISH: So, first of all, how did Asian countries see the U.S., the focus on Asia these past nine days?

KUHN: Well, America's allies in Asia generally welcomed the move pretty much. But interesting that none of them said that this was because they were afraid of China; that they welcomed the U.S. beefing up military alliances in the region.

And there were also other countries who were concerned that a bigger U.S. military presence in the region could be the prelude to eventual conflict between the big powers.

CORNISH: And, of course, so much of the conversation was about sort how China would react. But what was China's response?

KUHN: Yes. Well, China might have felt very wounded or insulted by all this alliance-building on their doorstep. Now, but in fact they were pretty cool about it. Now, China's Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin had this to say.

LIU ZHENMIN: Actually, U.S. has been important player in Asia ever since the Second World War. So we are looking forward to cooperate with the U.S. in the region and at the East Asia Summit.

CORNISH: And, of course, on the final day of his trip, President Obama actually held a surprise meeting with the Chinese premier. Correct?

KUHN: That's right. He met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao who was apparently quite conciliatory in his remarks. Premier Wen pledged to let the Chinese currency fluctuate more freely, which could help American exports to China. President Obama also had other economic payoffs on this trip to point to. He said the deal signed on this tour could potentially lead to a $39 billion increase in American exports. And that could support as many as 130,000 American jobs.

CORNISH: Now, another focus of the meeting over the course of the week became Myanmar.

KUHN: That's right. You could say Myanmar came out of this meeting the biggest winner of all. It scored some major points in terms of international recognition. It was agreed that it would chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014. The last time it came up for that chairmanship it was deemed too repressive.

You know, the Nobel Laureate and opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to run for a seat in parliament, which gives their political reforms some credibility. And President Obama announced the first visit by an American secretary of state in half a century. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Myanmar next month.

CORNISH: That was NPR's Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Bali. Thank you, Anthony.

KUHN: Thank you, Audie.

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