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Lecturing China
Friday, 18 November 2011 02:57

In his address yesterday to the Australian Parliament, US President Barack Obama laid down the law to China in very forceful terms.

True, he is seeking to look tough to his domestic US audience who probably thinks that he should be home managing budget problems.  True, he is trying to minimize Congress's cuts on the US military budget, as the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down.  And true, the the Asia-Pacific is now the most important region of the world for the US.

But the strong direct and indirect criticism of China, and the clear assertion of American leadership of the Asia-Pacific draws a strong line between China and all other leading countries in the region.  This highlights the messiness of a region which needs China economically, but which has little trust in it politically and miliatrily.

Here are some of the key messages from Obama's address:

" ... After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region ... the world’s fastest-growing region -- and home to more than half the global economy ...

... With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress...

... as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.

... We stand for an international order in which the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld.  Where international law and norms are enforced.  Where commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded.  Where emerging powers contribute to regional security, and where disagreements are resolved peacefully.

... As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific.

... we’ll reengage with our regional organizations...I’ll be proud to be the first American President to attend the East Asia Summit.  And together, I believe we can address shared challenges, such as proliferation and maritime security, including cooperation in the South China Sea.

... Meanwhile, the United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China...We’ve seen that China can be a partner from reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula to preventing proliferation.  And we’ll seek more opportunities for cooperation with Beijing, including greater communication between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation.  We will do this, even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people.

... A secure and peaceful Asia is the foundation for advancing our shared prosperity.

... We need growth that is fair, where every nation plays by the rules; where workers rights are respected, and our businesses can compete on a level playing field; where the intellectual property and new technologies that fuel innovation are protected; and where currencies are market driven so no nation has an unfair advantage.

... We also need growth that is broad -- not just for the few, but for the many -- with reforms that protect consumers from abuse and a global commitment to end the corruption that stifles growth.  We need growth that is balanced, because we will all prosper more when countries with large surpluses take action to boost demand at home.

... As we grow our economies, we’ll also remember the link between growth and good governance -- the rule of law, transparent institutions, the equal administration of justice.  Because history shows that, over the long run, democracy and economic growth go hand in hand.  And prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty.

... And this brings me to the final area where we are leading -- our support for the fundamental rights of every human being.  Every nation will chart its own course.  Yet it is also true that certain rights are universal; among them, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and the freedom of citizens to choose their own leaders.

... History is on the side of the free -- free societies, free governments, free economies, free people.  And the future belongs to those who stand firm for those ideals, in this region and around the world."


While Australian Prime Minister Gillard has obviously been seduced by Obama's charms, many in the region will not have appreciated the grating tone of Obama's speech.

Obama may not be personally responsible, but he represents the country that created the very destructive global financial crisis through its own bad governance, and whose military campaigns led to the many deaths of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan, without much obvious improvement in security.  He also represents a country that forgot Asia for a decade, and is now hurrying back as a self-appointed leader of the region, including through the Trans Pacific Partnership.

It is not clear that his hectoring will have helped a region, which has the difficult challenge of balancing its economic dependence on China and its political alliance with the US.


Remarks by President Obama to the Australian Parliament, 17 November 2011.


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