(by Jonathan Weisman, The Wall Street Journal at WSJ.com) SHANGHAI — President Barack Obama arrived here late Sunday to press China on issues from climate change to economic restructuring, amid rising concerns that his first swing through Asia as president will yield more disappointment than progress on trade, human rights, national security and environmental concerns.
A flurry of actions in Singapore this weekend raised more questions than they resolved on a broad sweep of issues confronting both sides of the Pacific. On Sunday, leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum dropped efforts to reach a binding international climate-change agreement in Copenhagen next month, settling instead for what they called a political framework for future negotiations.
Mr. Obama became the first president to meet with the entire Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN], including the military junta of Myanmar, and White House officials say he personally demanded the country’s leaders release political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But Mr. Obama failed to secure any mention of political prisoners in an ASEAN communiqué.
The U.S. and Russia now appear unlikely to complete a nuclear arms reduction accord by Dec. 5, when the current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires. Mr. Obama met for closed-door consultations with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but National Security Council Russia specialist Michael McFaul said major issues remain, and the two countries are working out a “bridging agreement” to extend previous arms-ratification rules.
On trade, the U.S. president committed this weekend to re-engage the Trans Pacific Partnership, a fledgling free trade alliance in the region. But a presidential shift in tone toward more trade engagement will face its real test Thursday when Mr. Obama visits South Korea to discuss a free trade agreement with that country that remains stuck.
And on Iran, Messers. Obama and Medvedev were left to warn leaders of the Islamic Republic once again that “time is running out.” Iran has yet to agree to a Russian offer to provide nuclear material for research in exchange for the closure of a nuclear reactor that western powers say could be used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
Half way through his Asian tour, Mr. Obama is confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm.
International efforts to combat climate change took a significant blow when the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum conceded a binding international treaty won’t be reached when the United Nations convenes in Copenhagen in three weeks. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen flew to Singapore Saturday night to deliver a new, down-sized proposal to lock world leaders into further talks.
…political opposition in the U.S. Congress over Mr. Obama’s climate-change proposals and continuing resistance among developing countries to binding emission reduction targets slowed consensus ahead of the Copenhagen summit.
But the leaders didn’t say when a final summit would be convened to ratify a real treaty. …
Mr. Obama, in a speech Sunday, took his appeal for a new world economic order to the leaders of Asia that must help make it happen. He said the United States would strive to consume less, save more and restructure its economy around trade and exports. But he appealed to Asian nations to make their own economies more dependent on domestic consumption than U.S. profligacy [extravagance].
White House officials say a similar message will be delivered in Shanghai and Beijing, but it is unclear how hard the U.S. president can press Beijing to allow the Chinese yuan to appreciate [increase in worth]. At the APEC summit, leaders “until the last moment” tried to secure a commitment to stabilize foreign-exchange markers, according to a top adviser to an APEC head of state. But disagreements between the U.S. and Chinese delegations kept any commitment on currency out of the APEC final statement.
A more valuable yuan would empower Chinese consumers to buy, while making Chinese exports less attractive to U.S. consumers. But Washington cannot afford to anger China, which it needs to float a U.S. budget deficit that reached $176.4 billion in October alone, a monthly record.
Indeed, the Asia trip is exposing the limits of Mr. Obama’s policy of engagement. The U.S. president met with ASEAN, declaring that efforts to marginalize the government of Myanmar had failed. Human rights groups had hoped a communiqué out of the meeting would call for the release of Ms. Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. Instead, it made a cryptic reference to a previous ASEAN foreign ministers communiqué that called for her release. Sunday’s statement did say that 2010 elections in Myanmar must be “free, fair, inclusive and transparent.”
The failure to single out Ms. Suu Kyi was “another blow” to dissidents who want more pressure on the Myanmar junta, said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a Thailand-based organization. “We keep saying again and again that the U.S. should not send a mixed signal to the regime.”
A White House official said the president never expected the leaders of Myanmar to accept any mention of the Nobel Laureate opposition leader but did press for a mention of political prisoners.
U.S. officials had taken pains to reduce expectations for the meeting, which was part of a new initiative by the Obama administration to improve its ties with Southeast Asia and increase interaction with the Myanmar government. The U.S. imposes stiff sanctions on the country, also known as Burma. But many analysts view those sanctions as a failure as Myanmar has expanded trade with China and other Asian nations, and U.S. officials now believe they might have more influence over the country’s leaders if they talk with them more regularly.
Myanmar’s military has controlled the country since 1962, and is accused of widespread human rights violations while overseeing an economy that remains one of the least-developed in Asia. The country’s profile has risen over the last year, however, amid reports of growing ties with North Korea. The regime plans to hold elections next year, the first since 1990, in a bid to boost its international reputation. But the U.S. and others contend the results cannot be fair unless Ms. Suu Kyi and her supporters – who won the last vote – are allowed to participate.
-Costas Paris contributed to this article.
Write to Jonathan Weisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. List the topics President Obama is addressing during his trip to Asia this month.
2. What is ASEAN? List the member states (answer can be found in the link under “Resources” below)
3. What progress did President Obama make with ASEAN on the plight of political prisoners?
4. What caused leaders to concede that a binding international treaty on global warming won’t be reached at the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen next month?
5. a) What promises did President Obama make in a speech to the leaders of Asia regarding his appeal for a new world economic order?
b) What did he ask for in return?
c) What do you think of these promises and requests?
6. The reporter states in para. 7: “Half way through his Asian tour, Mr. Obama is confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm,”
and in para. 14: “the Asia trip is exposing the limits of Mr. Obama’s policy of engagement.” What do you think he means by these statements?
View photos of President Obama’s trip at the Wall Street Journal website here.
Read about ASEAN at aseansec.org.