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Obama To Reassure Asian Allies Of U.S. Commitments To The Region


President Obama heads to Asia today, where his meetings include a G-20 summit. That's the group of 20, the leaders of the world's largest economies. The location of that meeting means that Obama has a chance to reassure Asian leaders of the U.S. commitment to the region. NPR's Jackie Northam has this preview.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The G-20 summit brings together leaders of the world's major economies. This year, it's being held in Hangzhou, an affluent city south of Shanghai. David Shambaugh, a China specialist at George Washington University, says the Chinese are pulling out all the stops for this summit - spending billions on security and sprucing up the city.

DAVID SHAMBAUGH: This is China's first time hosting it. And the symbolism of China's importance as a power in world affairs, particularly an economic power, is not lost.

NORTHMAN: And China has had a say in what will be addressed at the multilateral meetings. This past July, an international tribunal slapped down Beijing's extensive claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea. So off the table at the G-20 is any discussion of the South China Sea, says Eric Altbach, a senior vice president at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global business strategy firm.

ERIC ALTBACH: Certainly, the increased tensions in the South China Sea will be part of the backdrop for the meeting. This is one of the key challenges to stability and security in the Asia-Pacific. So it's a topic that will be on everyone's mind. It will be discussed in many of the bilateral meetings.

NORTHMAN: That includes two bilateral meetings, including a private dinner between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where issues such as the South China Sea, cybersecurity and China flooding the global steel market are expected to be discussed. But there are areas of agreement between the two leaders, including climate change, says Paolo Mauro, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

PAOLO MAURO: There will be discussion of - how can we bring the agreements that were made in Paris in December last year? How can we make those more concrete? How can we make sure that everybody implements them?

NORTHMAN: Obama is expected to spend time with other leaders, answering questions about the U.S. presidential campaign and, in the waning days of his presidency, about America's commitment to the region, says Altbach.

ALTBACH: I think the president will use this trip to really highlight, as an important part of his legacy, his effort to rebalance U.S. foreign policy to place greater attention to our relationships in the Asia-Pacific, the so-called Asia pivot or Asia rebalance. Altbach says an important part of that legacy is implementing a massive Asia-Pacific trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is stalled in Congress. And both U.S. presidential candidates have slammed the deal. George Washington University Shambaugh says the U.S. will be viewed poorly by every country in the region if Congress does not implement the deal.

SHAMBAUGH: Our credibility will be called into question for good reason if we do not follow through on TPP. That said, TPP is not an all-or-nothing agreement. But without TPP, America's presence and credibility in Asia's going to be deeply, deeply undermined.

NORTHMAN: Shambaugh says Obama will likely try to reassure allies of the U.S. commitment to the TPP and Asia at the G-20 summit and during a speech next week in Laos. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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