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Asia has reason to cheer Obama's win

Publication Date : 08-11-2012


Best thing from the elections is that America did not land in the hands of a novice at a time when Asia needs a seasoned hand at the wheel


Perhaps the best thing that came out of the United States presidential poll is that the world's most powerful nation did not land in the hands of a novice at a time when Asia needs a seasoned hand at America's wheel.

Too much is at stake for things to have been handed to a man who vowed to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, or made so many position adjustments that few knew what the real Mitt Romney stood for.

When President Obama travels to Cambodia next week for the East Asia Summit and possibly to Myanmar immediately afterwards, his Asian peers will be seeking assurances on several counts.

First, he will need to assure China and its neighbours that his pivot to Asia is not meant to stoke embers of dormant discords.

Beijing, for instance, chafes that the US is emboldening some small countries to take more muscular positions on maritime disputes. "Why did Hillary Clinton stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier to describe the South China Sea as 'West Philippine Sea'?" asks a senior Chinese official.

The popular Secretary of State's stated intention to retire may perhaps be an opportunity for Obama to set the relationship on an even keel, now that the pivot has been made.

A cool head in Washington will hopefully help tackle the Iran nuclear issue without violence and also not stir things when China, the dominant regional power, is going through its own convulsions and a leadership transition that is muddling some minds.

The China-Japan relationship is deteriorating by the day, imperilling among other things a US$340 billion trade relationship critical to the region's economic sinews.

In September, Chinese protesters in Qingdao attacked a factory set up by Panasonic. Yet, Matsushita Electric, as Panasonic used to be known, was the first major Japanese company to invest significantly in China after Deng Xiaoping made a direct appeal to its founder in 1978.

The other assurance Asia seeks is that Obama will try to fix America's economic woes without impeding globalisation.

From China's slowing factories to India's thriving back-offices, the world's No. 1 economy staying open is a key guarantor of domestic stability and future prosperity.

The US economy has gained some strength under Obama's watch, but growth is still below the historical trend rate. Obama's moves to improve America's competitiveness by raising education standards and building infrastructure, rather than putting up trade or immigration walls, is the correct approach.

But with factory automation, raising employment growth will remain a challenge - and the complaint of all those jobs outsourced to Asia will not go away too soon.

Obama will need all his persuasive skills to convince his people that what's good for Asia is also good for America.


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