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Obama Seeks to Reinforce Key Alliances on Asian Tour

BY Larisa Epatko  November 13, 2009 at 1:30 PM EST

President Obama leaving Air Force One. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on Friday at the start of his weeklong tour of key allied Asian nations. His visit is aimed at strengthening allegiances and tackling climate change, Afghanistan and the global economy.

In Tokyo on Friday, Mr. Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and announced at a press conference that he would establish a high-level working group on the issue of relocating U.S. Marines at Okinawa.

In 2006, the United States and Japan agreed to move the Marine airfield in Futenma to a less populated part of the island. But when Japan’s government changed after August elections, residents of Okinawa have been pushing to move the base off the island entirely, citing aircraft noise, environmental and security concerns.

The issue has been a point of contention between the two countries, but both leaders said Friday that they were seeking a fresh start.

“Both Yukio and I were elected on the promise of change,” said Mr. Obama, reported the Associated Press. “But there should be no doubt that as we lead our nations in a new direction, our alliance will endure and our efforts will be focused so that it will be even stronger in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.”

Japan has been a major source of aid to Afghanistan, and earlier pledged to send $5 billion for reconstruction efforts over the next five years. Hatoyama also said Friday he would work with the United States on climate change and nuclear nonproliferation initiatives.

The next stop on President Obama’s tour is Singapore on Saturday to meet with state leaders and participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. While there, he also plans to deliver a speech about U.S. engagement in the region.

Sunday marks the start of the three-day China portion of the president’s trip with a stop in Shanghai, and then Beijing on Monday, before heading to South Korea on Wednesday to wrap up his trip.

President Obama has said he would talk to the Chinese about revaluing their currency, the yuan, as well as opening Chinese markets further to U.S. goods, Reuters reported.

U.S. manufacturers have long complained that Beijing artificially holds down the yuan’s value to make Chinese exports cheaper and U.S. goods more expensive for China, while Beijing has objected to the United States placing tariffs on Chinese tires and steel pipes.

The Obama administration has continued a Bush administration approach aimed at easing mistrust between Washington and Beijing and encouraging China to become a responsible stakeholder in global affairs, though some have leveled criticism against the United States for not more forcefully pursuing the issue of human rights in China, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, residents in China are anticipating President Obama’s visit, as reported by GlobalPost’s Josh Chin. He interviewed a number of Beijing residents to find out what issues they would like addressed, and their responses ranged from recognizing Taiwan as a Chinese territory and looping in China on U.S. policy decisions in the region.