Obama struggles to keep focus on Asia
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia— US President Barack Obama voiced his determination to put Asia front and center in his foreign policy on Saturday, even as a two-nation visit to the region was eclipsed by jihadist attacks in France and Mali.
America’s self-styled “Pacific President” has been frustrated to see a trip to Malaysia and the Philippines designed to highlight his stated refocus on Asia overshadowed once again.
After years of talking about the need to deepen trade, security and diplomatic ties with the region, White House officials had hoped the trip would be a victory lap.
Twelve countries recently agreed to Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, and the US pledged to boost security assistance to its ally the Philippines, which is in a confrontation with China over maritime territory.
During the weeklong Asia swing, Obama has touted his years growing up in Southeast Asia, vowed to become the first president to visit Laos, and chatted with audience members in Bahasa Indonesia.
But at a business forum on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Malaysia yesterday, Obama had to begin by talking about events half a world away in Mali, where 27 people died in an attack by gun-toting jihadists.
In a speech, Obama condemned the “appalling” attack, adding that “this barbarity only stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge” of extremist violence.
“On behalf of the American people, I want to extend our deepest condolences to the people of Mali and the victims’ families, including at least one American,” he said. Reports from AFP and AP