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Asia-Pacific
Obama regrets US debt as he ends Asia trip
US president says Washington needs to revamp manufacturing to spur exports and create jobs.
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2011 22:11

Barack Obama has concluded his nine-day trip to Asia-Pacific nations, saying the US has relied too much on buying, consuming and amassing debt and must now move to revamp manufacturing to spur exports and create jobs.

"Over the last decade, we became a country that relied too much on what we bought and consumed. We racked up a lot of debt, but we didn't create many jobs at all," the US president said in a speech broadcast after an East Asia summit in Bali, Indonesia.

"If we want an economy that's built to last and built to compete, we have to change that. We have to restore America's manufacturing might, which is what helped us build the largest middle-class in history," Obama said.

The comments came a week after Obama suggested at an APEC summit he was hosting in Hawaii that the US had been partly to blame for losing ground to China and other competitors for not working harder to attract foreign investment.

"We've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades," Obama said at the time. "We've kind of taken for granted - well, people will want to come here - and we aren't out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America."  

Touting business deals

Some Republican presidential candidates jumped on those remarks, accusing Obama of calling Americans lazy. But the Democratic president's supporters dismissed that as distorting what he said.

The president also used his weekly radio address to tout business deals announced during his trip that he estimated would support nearly 130,000 American jobs and potentially raise US exports by up to $39bn.

He had cast his travels as a bid to re-engage with the world's fastest-growing region and boost trade ties there, largely to help lift the US economy and curb 9 percent unemployment, regarded as crucial to his 2012 re-election.

Analysts said Obama sought to charm Asia-Pacific with Australian slang and memories from his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia in his bid to boost US ties with the fast-growing region.

Earlier on Saturday, Obama met with China's premier, Wen Jiabao, after a week of sharp exchanges between the two nations.

"we became a country that relied too much on what we bought and consumed. We racked up a lot of debt, but we didn't create many jobs at all. "

- Barack Obama, US president

Obama and Wen met on the sidelines of the summit in Bali, following public quarrels over currency, trade and a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

A White House official said president Obama discussed the value of China's currency as well America's interests in the South China Sea.

"The principal focus of the meeting was on economics," Tom Donilon, Obama's top national security adviser, had told reporters.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Donilon joined Obama for the talks, an AFP photographer present at the start of the meeting saw.

Obama announced on Friday the "transfer" of 24 used F-16 fighter jets to Indonesia to bolster its poor air defence.

The aircraft will be updated with advanced computers, improved radar and avionics, and the capability to carry and field more advanced weaponry and sensors, the US defence department said.

Ties with Australia

In Australia on Thursday, Obama said the US was switching focus to Asia and the Pacific as he announced an increase in US military presence in the region.

"We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace," he said.

Obama also said he stood for an international order in which "commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded", in an apparent reference to China and its dispute with Taiwan and four ASEAN countries over the South China Sea.

China lays an all-encompassing claim to the sea and other claimants have complained it has grown more assertive by harassing ships travelling in the area.

Wen said in Bali on Friday that "outside powers" should not meddle in the dispute "under any pretext", in a veiled warning to the US.
 
"The disputes over the South China Sea between the relevant countries in the region have existed for many years," he said.

"They should be settled through friendly consultation and negotiation between the sovereign states directly concerned."

The US insists it is not taking sides in the dispute, but said it has a national interest in the area as a Pacific nation.

'Premiere arena'

China has said it is opposed to a discussion on the maritime disputes at the summit, but Obama said on Friday the gathering was "the premiere arena" to discuss issues such as maritime security.

"The East Asian leaders' meetings are occasions for regional economic co-operation, not a tribunal for quarrels over complex security or maritime issues," an opinion piece in China's official Xinhua news agency said.

"However, certain countries are complicating the issues by attempting to bring them to the meetings.

"And disappointingly ... Clinton signed a declaration with her Philippines counterpart on Wednesday to call for multilateral talks to resolve maritime disputes, such as those over the South China Sea."
 
The East Asia summit was expected to result in a document to be called the Bali Principles, which calls for countries to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states, renounce the use of force and settle disputes through peaceful means, officials said.

Source:
Agencies
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