America's 'first Pacific president' woos China, North Korea, and Burma

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The Independent Online

US President Barack Obama pledged yesterday, in the first major speech of his extensive Asia tour, to deepen dialogue with China rather than seek to contain the rising power. Calling himself "America's first Pacific president", the Hawaian-born Mr Obama reaffirmed Washington's decades-old alliance with Japan, its most important ally in the region.

"But while our commitment to this region begins in Japan, it does not end here," Mr Obama said in a speech to 1,500 people in the Japanese capital, his first stop on a nine-day Asian tour. "So I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this region. This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process," he said.

The US leader, who was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and visited Japan as a boy, said the Pacific rim had shaped his view of the world. He welcomed Beijing's growing global role but said its increased economic clout came with growing responsibility. Mr Obama has been criticised by some who believe he is downplaying human rights issues, but he stressed their importance in his address. "Of course, we will not agree on every issue, and the United States will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear – and that includes respect for the religion and cultures of all people."

Mr Obama also urged an unpredictable North Korea to return to stalled multilateral talks on its nuclear programme, and offered Burma the prospect of better ties with Washington if it pursued democratic reform and freed political prisoners, including the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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