US President Barack Obama pledged on Saturday to deepen dialogue with China rather than seek to contain the rising power, as he laid out a vision for greater engagement with a vibrant Asia-Pacific region.
Calling himself “America’s first Pacific President,” the Hawaii-born Obama signaled his commitment to the region, but gave no new specifics on how to reinvigorate a U.S. trade agenda many see as stalled.
Obama reaffirmed Washington’s decades-old alliance with Japan, its most important ally in the region, strained lately by a dispute over a US military base and questions about the future of the ties as both countries adapt to a rising China.
“But while our commitment to this region begins in Japan, it does not end here,” 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,” Obama said.
The US leader, who was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and enjoyed green tea-flavoured ice cream when he visited Japan as a young 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.
“So the United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances. On the contrary, the rise of a strong, and prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations,” he said, adding he would seek improved communication between the two countries’ militaries.
Obama has been criticised by some who believe he is downplaying human rights issues, but he stressed their importance in his address as a core US value.
“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,” he said.
The President urged developing nations to take “substantial actions” to curb the emissions causing global warming, a topic he is expected to take up in China — one of the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters with the US.