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Job Creation Focal Point of Obama’s Asia Trip

November 5, 2010 at 5:23 PM EDT
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President Obama began a 10-day trip to Asia Friday. Margaret Warner gives a preview of his itinerary and goals for this trip with two officials from past administrations, Douglas Paal and Wendy Sherman.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president travels overseas.Margaret Warner has our coverage of his 10-day trip.

MARGARET WARNER: Hard on the heels of Tuesday’s Election Day drubbing, the president embarked today on an extended trip to Asia, whose fast-growing markets he hopes can help grow the U.S. economy and jobs.

Despite the trip’s wide-ranging political, economic and security agenda, Mr. Obama this morning sought to link his travels directly to U.S. job creation.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:For every $1 billion we increase in exports, thousands of jobs are supported here at home.And I’m looking very much forward to helping to pry some markets open and help American businesses and put people back to work here at home during the course of this trip.

MARGARET WARNER: His itinerary takes him to four leading free market democracies of Asia: to Mumbai and New Delhi in India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Seoul, South Korea, for a G20 economic summit; and Yokohama, Japan, for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Along the way, he will meet with U.S. CEOs of companies seeking to expand their business in Asia.Notably, Mr. Obama will not stop in China, whose increasingly assertive economic and military posture worries its neighbors and the U.S.He visited there last year and will see Chinese President Hu at the G20 in Seoul.

And for more on President Obama’s trip to Asia, we turn to Douglas Paal, a National Security Council official in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.He’s now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.And Wendy Sherman, former State Department official in the Clinton administration, she’s now with the Albright Group, an international business consulting firm.And welcome back to you both.

WENDY SHERMAN, former adviser, State Department:Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Ever since the day after the election, the president has been promoting this trip as being about exports and job creation overseas.

Is that — Wendy Sherman, beginning with you, is that the way we should think of that?Is this the major focus?

WENDY SHERMAN: I do think, when with the president said the competition for Americans isn’t between Democrats and Republicans, it’s with the rest of the world, there is very much truth to that.

I think Americans understood through this recession that our jobs, our economy is tied to everybody else’s.And the fastest growing part of the world is in Asia.That’s where the most consumers are.That’s where the most people are.That’s where the growth is, and our security interests are tied up with what as well.

MARGARET WARNER: And there is, in fact, also a political security agenda here; is there not?

DOUGLAS PAAL, former official, National Security Council:There is.I mean, the rise of China means that there is going to be a disequilibration of power in the region.And the U.S. has been away from Southeast Asia for a while, hasn’t been really consistent in attending to Asia.And we have got big important partners in India, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia in trying to provide a stable atmosphere in which China’s emergence or re-rise takes place.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, let’s look a little more closely at the economic-jobs-export picture.

Is there thing, Wendy Sherman, you think could come out of this trip of a concrete nature that would either expand U.S. markets overseas or make it easier for U.S. businesses to enter certain sectors of these economies?

WENDY SHERMAN: Yes. I think, starting in India, there are a number of American businesses that are traveling over for this.The president is going to be meeting with them.We expect several contracts to be announced of major proportion that may supply upwards of 100,000 American jobs.

MARGARET WARNER: Boeing, for example.

WENDY SHERMAN: Boeing for example.Caterpillar is another, for instance, engines.

And we hope as well that, in the U.S. civil nuclear agreement with India, that we can finally open up that space for building really the high-tech jobs of the future that were the vision of that agreement.

MARGARET WARNER: And what about the other countries, in terms of prying open either the markets or the business opportunities?

DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, Indonesia, we have got a good position.Indonesia is a little bit off the message of the rest of the trip, because the president is going to a place where he spent part of his youth, and is going to be talking about democracy and the Muslim majority in that reasonably successful country.

In Korea, we have unfinished work to do, to finish a Korean-U.S. free trade agreement. This has tremendous potential to open up opportunities for American businesses in the Korean market. And he’s going to also, in Korea, be talking to the G20 about rule-setting and other things in the financial community, but, importantly, about how to get a rebalancing of the global economy, so that our exports sell better and the surplus countries that have been mounting up these tremendous trade-positive accounts will adjust those somehow.

This doesn’t look as promising.

MARGARET WARNER: And currency is part of that discussion.

WENDY SHERMAN: Currency is very much a part of that.

Secretary Geithner, in one of the pre-meetings, tried to set a larger framework to get away from the neuralgia of the currency-only issue.But there is no question that the president is going to be pressing this currency agenda at every stop along the way, in India, in Indonesia, at the G20, and at APEC.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let’s talk about the China factor.Is there a new — Doug Paal, is there a new or renewed community of interests, if you can put it that way, between the U.S. and some of China’s democratic neighbors?

DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, China embarked on a charm offensive through the first part of this last decade, where they tried to win friends throughout the region.And they had considerable success.They deployed a lot of assets, personnel, money.

And then the U.S. wasn’t paying that much attention to the region. Now, in this last year, China has shown some muscle-flexing, which has made their neighbors uncomfortable. And the charm offensive has turned into something a little more threatening. These countries are looking for the U.S. to get back in the game, whether it is the places visited by Secretary Clinton in the last 10 days, in Southeast Asia, in the Pacific, or in these four important countries the president is going to be.

MARGARET WARNER: Including Vietnam.

DOUGLAS PAAL: Including Vietnam.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it? I mean, where — how would this actually play out? Are you talking about some — trying to check China’s rising power or counterbalance it?

WENDY SHERMAN: Well, I think we are trying to manage China’s rising power, so that it is positive, so that they in fact are a responsible world leader and player in the international community. These are four strong democracies.

As Doug said, between the president’s trip and Secretary Clinton’s trip, which he is just finishing up, they will have touched virtually every country in Asia and really sent a message that, yes, China is important.China’s critical.The president will have a bilateral with Hu Jintao.Hu Jintao is expected here in the United States in January.But it’s not all about China.In fact, by 2030, India will be a larger country, by population, than China will be.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, President Obama embarks or arrives tomorrow in India with ballooning U.S. budget deficits, a sort of flagging U.S. economy, or certainly not growing the way some of these Asian economies are, and, of course, having taking a beating at the polls.Does that affect the way his Asian partners see him or of the U.S.?

DOUGLAS PAAL: They know all these things.And they are concerned about the future economic course of America.

But I think there is a resilient belief in the region that the United States does come back.Our problem is, we take a little while to come back, and we’re in that period where we haven’t demonstrated the resumed strong growth and resumed political consensus in this country.

But there is a presumption in these countries that we will get through this.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree there is still a presumption that America is a major — should be a major power there, and is?

WENDY SHERMAN: Not only a presumption.These countries want American — America to be a major player in the region.They want our military might.They want our economic might.They want our political might.And they want American leadership.

President Obama is very popular in the four countries that he is going to.And looking back over the past many years, virtually every president who has faced a tough midterm election heads out on the road afterwards.

This was preplanned.APEC was already scheduled.The G20 was already scheduled.But projecting American power abroad in difficult times at home helps to strengthen the American economy and America’s future.

MARGARET WARNER: And do you agree, Doug Paal, that this is in the fine tradition of, when presidents are faced with maybe domestic — limits at home with their Congress, they turn their eyes broad?

DOUGLAS PAAL: Not really.I think presidents go abroad when they can.They have got important meetings and affairs to attend to.

President Obama has been kept at home by the need to campaign for his candidates for the last year.And a lot of travel has been postponed until after the election.It’s a natural feature.

MARGARET WARNER: And, of course, for President Obama to get this South Korea free trade agreement, which I think you mentioned, Wendy, he will need Congress anyway.

WENDY SHERMAN: Absolutely.He will need Congress.Right now, the negotiators from both sides are trying to fix autos, fix beef, get the agreement to where it needs to be, so that the leaders, when they meet at the G20, can make a commitment to get this through and get it done.It’s quite important.

MARGARET WARNER: And do the prospects actually improve with a Republican Congress?

DOUGLAS PAAL: I think they do improve in terms of passage of legislation.The question is, will we get the decision to go forward?This is a really important matter.We have got to get back into the game of free trade.

MARGARET WARNER: All right.Doug Paal and Wendy Sherman, thank you both.


DOUGLAS PAAL: Thank you.