US leadership a constant and global necessity: Obama

US leadership a constant and global necessity: Obama

American leadership is and has always been a "constant and global necessity" when tackling international issues, and is backed by the renewed strength of the US economy at home, said US President Barack Obama.

Whether it is degrading the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or combating Ebola in West Africa, the US has stepped up to the plate amid the turmoil and uncertainty this year, he noted at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in Beijing yesterday.

And with US economic data looking up again, this has made for an "American economy that is primed for steadier, more sustained growth and better poised to lead and succeed in the 21st century than just about any other nation on earth", Mr Obama added.

But the Pacific Ocean is big enough for a strong US and China. "The United States welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China," he said.

"Over recent decades, the US has worked to help integrate China into the global economy not only because it is in China's best interest, but because it is in America's and the world's. We want China to do well."

East Asian Institute analyst Chen Gang said Mr Obama's emphasis on the US' global leadership role is likely in response to Chinese President Xi Jinping's call for an "Asia-Pacific Dream" a day earlier, in which he staked China's claim for a bigger leadership role in the region.

"Mr Obama wants to assure partners in the region that the US remains influential in this part of the world and China still cannot compete," he said.

Mr Obama's comments came amid tensions between China and the US, which have battled over issues such as cyber security and human rights. The US has also lobbied against the US$100 billion (S$129 billion) Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched by China.

Mr Obama, who arrived in the Chinese capital yesterday wounded from his party's losses in the US mid-term elections, also urged China to free up its markets and exchange rate, and create a more level playing field for foreign firms. Dozens of overseas companies have come under scrutiny as China seeks to enforce a 2008 anti-monopoly law.

Mr Obama, who met Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Joko Widodo earlier yesterday, also announced the easing of visa arrangements between the world's two largest economies from tomorrow. Student visas for American and Chinese students will be extended to five years, and validity for business and tourist visas will be stretched from one year to a decade with multiple entries.

There were 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the US last year, Mr Obama said, contributing US$21 billion to the economy and supporting over 100,000 jobs.

"This agreement could help us more than quadruple those numbers," he said, describing it as an "important breakthrough which will benefit our economies, bring our people together".

esthert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 11, 2014.
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