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12 Nov, 2009 11:09

ROAR: “US lacks clear approach to Asia”

ROAR: “US lacks clear approach to Asia”

The White House is trying to shift “the center of international politics to the Asia-Pacific region,” analysts say.

US President Barack Obama will visit Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea during his nine-day trip to Asia. Obama, who is the first US president to have lived in Asia as a child, will discuss with Asian leaders the economy, climate change, North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan.

There are some bilateral meetings on Obama’s itinerary, including those with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Obama will also hold a separate meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the framework of a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) in Singapore. According to US officials, the two leaders will discuss three main topics: work on the new treaty on strategic offensive arms; Iran; and North Korea.

The US president’s tour is supposed to be “the demonstration of the White House’s attention to the leading nations of the region,” said Maksim Minaev of the Center for Political Conjuncture. The US intends not only to maintain “preferential contacts” with these countries, but also to strengthen “transpacific relations with them,” the analyst said.

“Thus, Washington will actually confirm shifting the center of international politics toward the Asian-Pacific region,” he noted. America’s diplomatic efforts have been geared towards shifting to the transpacific direction since February in order to prepare for the first visit of the current president to Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing and Seoul, Minaev added.

The US officials stress that relations between Washington and Beijing are “the most important bilateral relations in the world and China will be the main destination of Obama’s tour,” Vedomosti daily said.

The US remains the second largest trade partner of China after the European Union. Beijing has amassed a large amount of US currency, which makes it dependent on the American economy. At the same time, “the weakness of China’s currency helps the country’s producers and stimulates its exports,” Finam.ru website said.

The possibility of the yuan becoming a regional reserve currency worries the US, believes Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the US and Canada Institute. The Americans “do not like such a perspective, but they will not quarrel with China because of this issue,” Kremenyuk told Finam.ru.

Washington also needs more close cooperation with China in Central Asia, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the analyst said. Another problem for the US is that Iran is one of the China’s main trade partners. Obama will try to persuade China to “call the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to order, and to make him pay close attention to the non-proliferation treaty,” he said.

The US is worried about disagreements with China in the trade sphere, which have intensified on the eve of the US president’s visit, Vedomosti said. Trade tensions between the two countries have escalated after the US last week introduced 99% duties on Chinese steel pipes. Beijing, in response, started an anti-dumping probe into American carmakers.

Trade relations between the US and China have deteriorated since mid-September, Gazeta.ru website said, adding that the US has introduced duties on tires and pipes, produced in China. Beijing responded by raising duties on American carmakers.

“The problem is more important than simply tires and cars,” believes Dmitry Abzalov of the Center for Political Conjuncture. “China is the main producer of goods for the US, and the US is the main consumer,” he told the website. “Moreover, the two countries are linked by the national currencies’ rates. And this is a reason for trade disagreements.”

Aleksey Makarkin, analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, noted that the US recognizes that “China is a country with a market economy.” The problem is that both countries “defend their own trade, their own market,” he told Gazeta.ru.

The disagreements have been escalated because of the economic crisis, Makarkin believes. But he doubts that these contradictions will have serious “strategic consequences.” The Chinese economy is dependent on the dollar, the analyst noted. The leaders of the two countries “will visit each other and come to an agreement,” he believes.

During his visit Obama will negotiate the weakness of China’s currency, which helped the country’s goods flood the US market. However, China is unlikely to agree on the introduction of the floating rate for the yuan, the website added.

Meanwhile, China remains the main creditor of the US economy and Washington still needs China’s investment. It seems that the two countries will remain on the same mind, Abzalov thinks. “Washington will resign itself to the weakness of the yuan, and Beijing will agree on partial protectionist measures of the US,” he said.

The Russian media have also noted the move by the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who said on the eve of Obama’s visit that he was “encouraged by efforts in Japan and China to spur domestic demand instead of relying so heavily on American consumers.” This shift may contribute to more stable global growth, the treasury secretary believes.

Geithner also welcomed Beijing’s commitment to shifting to a “more flexible market-oriented exchange rate” despite the fact that it may occur in a distant future.

Washington still cannot formulate a clear approach to China and East Asia, and this explains the fact that Obama reaches this part of the world “only by the end of his first year in office,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. Meanwhile, many predict that this region may be “the main strategic arena of the 21st century,” he added.

The US does not have an understanding of what China wants to see, Lukyanov said. “The present interdependency is taxing for both countries, which has become clear during the crisis,” Lukyanov wrote in Gazeta.ru.

“Paradoxically, to overcome the crisis, this interdependency should only be strengthened,” he stressed. “However, the more economic weight China gains, the stronger are the suspicions that this weight will be converted into political ambitions,” the analyst said.

Although Lukyanov called the article about Obama’s tour “Conquest of Asia,” he does not expect any breakthroughs. No doubt the president will have ovations during his meetings with people in China, the analyst said.

“But it will not clarify thorny Asian affairs,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT