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President Obama is now in Japan after finishing up the G-20 summit in South Korea. The summit featured bitter in-fighting over economic policies. One prime minister diplomatically called the conversations robust.
As NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Seoul, the president's trip to South Korea underlines a major international power shift.
LOUISA LIM: Until the wee morning hours, G-20 negotiators, now nicknamed sherpas, were scaling the mountains of disagreement, hammering away at a communique. Finally, a result: a statement all the leaders could get behind. But the mood was one more of relief than celebration.
At a press conference, President Obama sensed the anti-climax, admitting the work they'd done might not seem dramatic or world-changing.
President BARACK OBAMA: Instead of hitting home runs, sometimes we're going to hit singles. But they're really important singles.
LIM: One achievement was an agreement to set indicative guidelines to track trade imbalances. But there were no details, apart from a pledge to revisit the issue within six months.
On the contentious issue of whether China keeps its currency artificially low, President Obama was outspoken.
Pres. OBAMA: The issue of the RMB is one that is an irritant, not just to the United States, but is an irritant to a lot of China's trading partners and those who are competing with China to sell goods around the world. It is undervalued.
LIM: But such strong language wasn't reflected in the communique. That document is described as relatively weak by Thomas Kalinowski from Ewha University, who researches global financial governance. The language that refers to currency -and obliquely, the disagreement over the renminbi - is even more telling.
Professor THOMAS KALINOWSKI (Ewha University): To avoid competitive devaluation and also to move towards a market-determined exchange rate system - that these are the terms used, and they are, I think, very weak.
LIM: I mean, would that signal that China got its way on this issue?
Prof. KALINOWSKI: I think so. Yeah. It's definitely not what U.S. President Obama would have wanted, right?
LIM: Beijing's strategy is paying off. Jia Qingguo from Peking University says nowadays it's very difficult to develop alliances against China.
Mr. JIA QINGGUO (Associate Dean of the School of International Studies, Peking University): Those countries have a lot of, you know, common interests and stakes with China. The U.S. will not take over China's role to provide them with those economic and other benefits.
LIM: �Even South Korea, a trusted U.S. ally, resisted compromise, denying Mr. Obama the free-trade agreement he had been hoping for. He now says he hopes the deal will be done within weeks.
Jong Bum�Kim�from Yonsei University helped draft that pact. He admits this issue is damaging.
Professor JONG BUM KIM (Yonsei University): Obviously President Obama made a political investment on getting the deal done on this trip. If he eventually does not succeed in agreeing on this deal, then he will be the political loser for this.
LIM: The U.S. was the target of scathing criticism for its plans to stimulate its own economy by quantitative easing. Given the U.S. isolation, some joked the G-20 was looking more like the G-19 plus 1. Fault lines are deepening and power is shifting. Thomas Kalinowski again.
Prof. KALINOWSKI: Well, I think that's the reality of the new world, that the U.S. is relatively losing clout in the world and in the international organization. Americans and the U.S. government have to get used to that.
LIM: This trip was designed to reward America's natural allies in Asia; it's served to highlight the limits of American power.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Seoul.
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