Obama talks of green tea icecream and Asian security in Tokyo
Sunday TelegraphBy Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo
There was talk of green tea ice cream, memories of a childhood visit to Japan and even a reference to the remote fishing town Obama as the US President set out his vision for US relations with Asia in a keynote speech.
He later bowed deeply to Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, upon arrival at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for a private lunch before he headed to Singapore on the next leg of his Asian tour.
Beneath the signature charm and rhetoric, President Barack Obama's message was clear: the US fully intends to deepen dialogue with China and pursue greater cooperation with countries across Asia.
Speaking before 1,500 people in a central Tokyo concert hall on the second day of his whistlestop tour of Asia, Mr Obama also pledged his "unshakeable" commitment to Asian security and insisted that the US would not be "cowed" by North Korea's nuclear tests.
Calling himself "America's first Pacific President" during a 40-minute address, Mr Obama said: "I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this region, because what happens here has a direct effect on our lives at home.
"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."
The president reaffirmed the alliance between Japan and the US, which spans nearly five decades and has recently been overshadowed by a dispute over the relocation of American troops in the southern Okinawa region, and their continued presence in Japan overall.
Tension over the issue have been ignited following the landslide victory of Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama in August with his popular promises of a more independent foreign policy stance from its powerful post-war ally.
However, keen to emphasise the strength of their ties, Mr Obama said: "I am beginning my journey here for a simple reason. Since taking office, I have worked to renew American leadership and pursue a new era of engagement with the world based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
"And our efforts in the Asia Pacific will be rooted, in no small measure, through an enduring and revitalised alliance between the United States and Japan."
Referring to the controversial troop relocation plans, Mr Obama said: "We have agreed to move expeditiously through a joint working group to implement the agreement that our two governments reached on restructuring US forces in Okinawa."
But among the talk of foreign policy, nuclear weapons and recovering economies, there were lighter moments: Mr Obama charmed the audience with his memories of a childhood visit to Japan with his mother, during which he visited an ancient Buddha statue in the seaside town Kamakura – but recalls being most interested in consuming the “matcha” green tea ice cream.
He also referred to the small Japanese fishing town Obama, which launched a presidential campaign at the time of his election and is now home to a thriving industry of Mr Obama-themed chopsticks, traditional cakes and kimono, saying: "I could not come here without sending my greetings and my gratitude to the citizens of Obama, Japan."
With China poised to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy in the coming year, Mr Obama welcomed the growing global role of Beijing but urged a sense of responsibility.
"It is important to pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern – because no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century alone, and the United States and China will both be better off when we are able to meet them together. That is why we welcome China's efforts to play a greater role on the world stage – a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility."
Security issues in the region were also high on the agenda for Mr Obama, who urged the volatile North Korean regime to return to stalled six-party talks on its nuclear programme.
"We will not be cowed by threats, and we will continue to send a clear message through our actions, and not just our words: North Korea's refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security, not more," he said.
Economic recovery was another key issue tackled by Mr Obama during his speech, a timely subject following the release on Friday of new figures showing America's trade deficit grew in September by 18.2 per cent to US$36.5 billion.
With the figures adding a sense of urgency to US efforts seeking greater export opportunities in Asia, he said: "Now that we are on the brink of economic recovery, we must also ensure that it can be sustained," he said. "We simply cannot return to the same cycles of boom and bust that led us into a global recession. We cannot follow the same policies that led to such imbalanced growth."
Following his speech, Mr Obama had lunch with the Emperor and Empress before flying to Singapore to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co- operation forum.