Obama’s Asian Tour

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Smarting from his party's midterm elections defeat, President Barack Obama is turning his attention abroad. His 10-day trip to Asia, the longest of his presidency, is a chance to refocus his energies away from the political battles of Washington and onto what may be the most important region of the 21st century. He has planned stops in India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, a democracy-heavy itinerary -- which, in light of an increasingly assertive Beijing, is hardly an accident. Here, a Mumbai billboard seen Nov. 4 is being readied to welcome the president.


The town hall meeting format hasn't worked out all that well for Democratic politicians facing angry voters in the United States over the last couple years, but odds are that Obama's scheduled get-together with university students in Mumbai on Nov. 6 will go better. The president's town hall meeting with Chinese students in Shanghai last year was uncontroversial and sedate, with the audience and their questions carefully chosen by authorities -- no word yet if Indian authorities will be as strict. Above, students reading at the University of Allahabad.


There is special significance to Obama's visit to Jakarta: He lived there for four formative years of his childhood, and has frequently described how his experiences abroad as a boy shaped his worldview and foreign-policy outlook. Obama will meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, above, on Nov. 9 in Jakarta on his visit and discuss formal state relations. The president has cancelled two previous visits to the country, so Indonesians are looking forward to finally seeing a man who many of them consider one of their own.


Following a wreath-laying ceremony at Indonesia's Heroes Cemetery in commemoration of Indonesian Heroes Day on Nov. 10, Obama will visit Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. The president is scheduled to give a speech heralding Indonesia's cultural pluralism and vibrant democracy as proof that Islam and modernity can co-exist during his visit, but the White House has clarified that he will not give the speech at the mosque -- for sadly obvious domestic political reasons.


On Nov. 10 Obama will head to South Korea, which has been a vital ally of the United States for over half a century, but only in the last two decades has the country emerged as a regional power in its own right. South Korea is now the United States' 7th largest trading partner, and a pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement -- which was put on the back burner in the run-up to this month's elections -- could increase the $78 billion in bilateral trade between the two by as much as 25 percent. Above, Buddhists celebrates the Buddha's birthday in Seoul on April 26, 2009.


2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, and the first event for Obama on his trip to Seoul is a Veteran's Day visit to Yongsan Garrison, the U.S. military headquarters in South Korea. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the demilitarized zone in July, the president is not scheduled for a visit to the North Korean border. Above, South Korean soldiers stand in the rain during a change of command ceremony at a U.S. military base in Seoul.


The centerpiece of Obama's Seoul visit will be the G-20 meetings with leaders of the world's biggest economies on Nov. 11 and 12. The Obama administration is aiming to come away from the summit -- as well as several bilateral meetings with foreign leaders including China's Hu Jintao -- having made progress on China's artificial currency pegging. The devaluation of the renminbi has kept down the price of Chinese goods at the expense of other countries' exports, including the United States'.


After Seoul, Obama heads to Yokohama, Japan for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. The president is looking not only to fortify U.S. ties with Japan in light of tensions over the large U.S. military presence in Okinawa, but also to strengthen ties with the country in the face of a growing Chinese naval presence in the region. Japan's new prime minister, Naoto Kan, has taken a more cooperative approach than his predecessor in working with Washington, and is reportedly leaning towards a U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement which could allow certain U.S. markets -- particularly agricultural -- to enter Japan easier.


After meetings with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama's last scheduled stop, on Nov. 14, will be the Great Buddha statue above in Kamakura, which he visited once before as a child. But many Japanese -- including survivors of the atomic bombings that ended World War II -- are disappointed that the president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has made a new nuclear weapons disarmament treaty a foreign policy priority, won't be including a stop in Hiroshima or Nagasaki on his itinerary.

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