Although his remarks at the recent APEC CEO conference in Hawaii earlier this month were mostly serious, US President Barack Obama opened with a joke. "This is my birthplace, I know that was contested for a while," he said. "I can show you the hospital if you'd like."
That matter dispensed with, he moved to weightier topics. Obama praised the outcomes that had been agreed on at the G20 summit earlier this month. "I was pleased to see that European leaders were taking seriously the need to solve not just the Greek crisis but also the broader European crisis," he said.
Like other speakers at the APEC CEO summit, he felt that the end is not quite in sight. "We're not going to see massive growth in Europe till the problem is resolved. That will have a dampening effect on the overall economy." But as long as the problems are contained, this presents an opportunity for growth for APEC. In a time when the rest of the world struggles, the Asia-Pacific region is more important to the US than ever before.
Obama said he was happy with the progress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In such an extraordinarily diverse region it offers the potential to resolve trade issues of the past and those that may emerge in the future. If it succeeds, he thought that the TPP could be a model not just for the Asia-Pacific, but also for the wider world.
On China, he accepted that some tensions continue, since the US, like many countries, both competes with China and wants to engage with it. The issues loom especially large in intellectual property, where America's main advantage lies in its innovation and its patents. In this realm and in others like procurement and currency, China does not play fair.
However, the President was supportive of the changes that are taking place in China. "We should be rooting for China to grow," he suggested. "Now only does that present an enormous marketplace for American businesses and exports; but to see so many millions of people lifted out of poverty is a remarkable achievement."
He addressed some misperceptions about his administration's activities, which he said he had noticed in the business press, arguing that he has issued fewer new regulations than the previous two governments. In addition, he said he has engaged in regulatory look-back, re-examining certain topics and removing rules that had become out of date.
For the audience back home, Obama had one more message. There have been times when Americans may question their influence. This has been true over the past decade, during which the US has been involved in military conflicts and stricken by economic woes. "One of the things I'm encouraged about is the eagerness of countries to see the US re-engaged in this region," he stated.
American leadership is still welcomed, although the nature of that leadership may have shifted a little.
"I am very proud of the leadership America has shown in the past but I also don't want people to underestimate the leadership we are showing now," he said. 'We are poised to work in a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect with countries around the world."
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