Obama remarks show China relationship high on agenda

Updated: 2013-10-10 08:24

(Agencies/China Daily)

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Obama remarks show China relationship high on agenda

US President Barack Obama speaks about the continuing government shutdown from the White House Briefing Room in Washington, October 8, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

When US President Barack Obama said, "I am sure the Chinese don't mind that I'm not there right now," referring to his absence from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Indonesia, his remarks showed that ties with China, political and economic, stand high on his agenda, observers said.

Obama suggested at a White House news conference on Tuesday that China had probably taken advantage of his absence from the APEC forum in Bali, a result of the partial US government shutdown.

But Tao Wenzhao, a US studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that China is not willing to take advantage of the US' difficulties. "There is more cooperation than competition between China and the US," he said.

Tao said China has shared a long-term friendship with APEC economies, both politically and economically, which would remain unaffected, whether Obama had attended the summit or not.

President Xi Jinping's attendance at the seven-day summit succeeded in advancing China's relations with ASEAN countries, according to Chinese the Foreign Ministry, which cited the signing of a Five-Year Plan of Commercial Cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia.

Xi said China seeks economic ties that benefit and unite all states in the region of to expand economies. Referring to the Asia-Pacific, he said, "A family of harmony prospers".

The main reason for Xi's achievements at the forum is China's growing economic strength, said Guo Xiangang, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies. "China adheres to peaceful development and is willing to share its interests with other countries, which gains trust among the region."

The US government has been partially shut for more than a week because of the US Congress' failure to pass a normally routine temporary spending bill, forcing Obama to stay at home to solve this domestic issue. It has been 17 years since the last US government shutdown.

Obama's cancellation of the trip, which was also to include stops in Malaysia and the Philippines, has raised doubts about his administration's vaunted "pivot to Asia", which was aimed at reinvigorating the US military and economic influence in the region while balancing a rising Beijing.

Asia security expert Carl Thayer at Australia's University of New South Wales concurred that Obama's no-show at APEC in Bali, and at an East Asia summit opening on Wednesday in Brunei, was a "missed opportunity".

He said Obama could have personally pressed US economic and military interests.

While his absence from the forum "may weaken the US' credibility among its alliances in the region", Tao said, the damage to his global influence "is actually limited because it is understandable for him to make domestic issues his priority".

Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed many APEC leaders in saying that Obama had no choice but to stay home. While expressing sympathy for Obama's domestic travails, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said "no other country can replace" US engagement in Asia, "not China, not Japan, not any other power".

Guo said the fact that the US president didn't attend isn't even the crucial issue.

"It is not Obama's absence that is significant, but the economic fallout from the US political power jockey that is worrying leaders in Asia and the world," he said.