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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Finishing Asia Tour, Obama Promotes More Ambitious Foreign Policy.....

BRISBANE, Australia — When President Obama ended his last trip to Asia in the Philippines in April, he delivered a defense of his foreign policy as a slow, steady pursuit of American interests — casting himself as a batter who hits singles and doubles, but avoids reckless errors.
As he finishes another tour of the region in Australia this weekend, Mr. Obama seems to have found a formula for a more ambitious approach overseas, built around two issues that only recently climbed to the top of his agenda: trade and climate change.
The scorecard for this trip looks drastically different from the last one: a landmark climate-change agreement with China, a trade deal with the Chinese on technology products, signs of progress on a regional trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a $3 billion pledge to a climate-change fund for developing countries.
These issues do not come without traps of their own. Republicans immediately condemned Mr. Obama’s climate agreement with China. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said it would require China to do nothing for 16 years while “creating havoc in my state and other states across the country.”Some of the difference is merely a question of timing. Negotiations with the Chinese on the climate and trade agreements had been underway for months. The prospects for a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal improved in recent months, and may actually be helped further in the United States by the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.
But administration officials said the accomplishments of the trip exemplified what Mr. Obama hopes will be an “affirmative agenda” in foreign policy — one that will offset the relentless stream of crises he has confronted, including the Islamic State militant group, the Ebola outbreak and Ukraine.
“Even as we have to manage crises, we want to make sure we’re focusing on an affirmative agenda,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “I think that’s the common thread on this trip.”
Mr. Obama clearly relished having momentum as he arrived in Brisbane for a meeting of the Group of 20, the organization of 19 industrial and emerging-market countries plus the European Union. Speaking at the University of Queensland on Saturday, he drew noisy applause when he talked about how the climate deal with China could galvanize efforts to negotiate a new global climate treaty in 2015.
“You’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science and reach a strong global climate agreement next year,” Mr. Obama said. “If China and the United States can agree on this, then the world can agree on this. We can get this done.”
Mr. Obama’s words carried an extra edge in Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a blunt skeptic about the science behind climate change. He boasted to the leaders gathered for the meeting that his government had repealed a tax on carbon emissions — a key tool to curb the greenhouse gases that heat up the atmosphere.
Mr. Abbott tried to keep climate change off the agenda at the Group of 20 meeting, preferring to focus on jobs and economic growth. But Mr. Obama’s$3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund, announced in his speech here, made that difficult.
The timing was clearly intended to prod other would-be donors, like Japan, which was expected to announce a contribution of up to $1.5 billion toward the fund’s total goal of $10 billion.
Mr. Obama seemed well aware of what he was doing. Australia and the United States, he said, both have bad track records on carbon emissions because they share a frontier tradition and an abundance of fossil fuels — “which means,” he said, “we’ve got to step up.”
That line drew a burst of applause from the audience. Australian officials listened respectfully but left little doubt where they stood afterward.
“Australia is a resources-exporting economy: coal, gas, uranium,” said Tim Nicholls, the treasurer and minister of trade of the State of Queensland. “We think a sensible debate is absolutely necessary, but we also think there is a future for coal, as there is for gas.”
Mr. Obama came to the meeting with another advantage: The American economy is growing more rapidly than most others, especially Japan’s and Europe’s. He said the United States would push for countries to pursue more expansionary economic policies to stimulate demand and create jobs.
“Over the last few years,” he said, “the United States has put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined. But America can’t be expected to just carry the world economy on our back.”
Some economists predicted that Mr. Obama’s words would carry weight in a way that they did not in previous years because the United States is so obviously outperforming its peers.
“The rest of the world is looking at the United States with a degree of envy,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard. “The way that the U.S. has recovered, the way it relatively quickly handled its banking crisis, the shale revolution and so on.”
Still, it is not clear how long the afterglow from Mr. Obama’s trip will last. He must deal with Republicans who have pledged to fight him on issues from an immigration overhaul to the Keystone XL pipeline. Many Democrats will not cheer his success if he manages to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Mr. Obama will also have to deal again with the crises in Syria and Iraq, where the Pentagon is sending more American troops, and in Ukraine, where there are new reports of Russian troops fighting inside the country.
Even in Brisbane, where he spoke hopefully of the reinvigorated American role in Asia, Mr. Obama referred to the other headaches he faced, singling out the international response to the “appalling” downing of a Malaysian jetliner in Ukraine, which killed 38 Australian citizens and residents.