By Stephen Collinson (AFP) – Oct 7, 2009
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will make his debut Asian tour next month, visiting Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea for a flurry of talks dominated by the economic crisis and global security.
The trip will mark Obama's most concentrated foray yet into the vital US relationship with top Asian powers, and see him push for backing on key foreign policy priorities including the nuclear showdowns with North Korea and Iran.
The US president will leave behind a packed and sometimes troubled domestic agenda when he leaves Washington on November 11 and remains in the region for next eight days.
He will touch down first in Japan, then attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) summit in Singapore.
Obama will also hold what the White House billed as the first formal talks between a US leader and all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders -- which could include a rare encounter with Myanmar's military rulers.
The president will then visit Beijing and Shanghai and end his Asian trip in South Korea.
But the White House said Obama's schedule will not include a trip to Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood, a period he has often referenced fondly in speeches and in his outreach to the Muslim world.
"The president ... will be traveling to Asia next month to strengthen our cooperation with this vital part of the world on a range of issues of mutual interest," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Obama has made strenuous personal efforts to set a new US direction towards Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, but has yet to devote similar time to Asia.
But his emerging policy features a strong streak of engagement and is aimed at containing the North Korean nuclear threat, improving ties with China and maintaining warm US relations with allies South Korea and Japan.
Obama has also decided to reverse US policy and engage Myanmar, following the failure of previous policies which included both sanctions and incentives for the military-ruled country to embrace democracy.
The White House said Obama would first travel to Tokyo between November 12 and 13 for a visit that will include his second round of talks with new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama after the two men met at the United Nations last month.
He will then be in Singapore between November 13 to 15 for APEC and ASEAN talks and one-on-one talks with regional leaders.
Washington sees ASEAN as a possible counterweight to rising Chinese power throughout Southeast Asia, and in July signed a friendship pact with the group amid claims the previous Bush administration had neglected it.
Obama's visit to China between November 15 and 18 will include his first visits as president to Beijing and the booming metropolis of Shanghai and a third set of talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Washington has warmly praised China for its cooperation in efforts to tighten sanctions against North Korea following the Stalinist state's nuclear test in May.
But Beijing has yet to fall fully into line with a US drive to frame a crippling range of sanctions against Iran, should it refuse demands from a group of key powers, including China, to end its nuclear program.
Gibbs said Obama's talks in China would focus on regional and global issues, including security, nonproliferation, energy issues and climate change.
The president will wrap up his visit to Asia in Seoul, South Korea, between November 18 and 19, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
North Korea's nuclear challenge and the US nuclear alliance will dominate talks between Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.
While in South Korea, Obama will also meet US service members from the US garrison monitoring the uneasy Cold War truce with Stalinist North Korea.
There had been expectations that Obama would travel this year to Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood after his divorced late mother married an Indonesian.
Gibbs said that Obama met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last month, and the two leaders agreed that it made most sense for the visit to take place next year.
"They agreed on the importance of having a visit that would showcase the importance of a growing US-Indonesian bilateral relations," Gibbs said.
Obama's childhood connection and his knowledge of a few words of the Indonesian language have made him hugely popular in the country of 234 million people, 90 percent of whom are Muslim.
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