Obama in India on Asian tour

US president arrives in Mumbai on first leg of 10-day tour to four countries aimed at boosting trade.

    US President Barack Obama will be staying at the Taj Mahal hotel, site of the 2008 Mumbai attacks [REUTERS]  

    Barack Obama, the US president, has arrived in India on the first leg of a 10-day trip to Asia that aims to boost exports and create US jobs.

    The presidential jet Air Force One touched down in India's  financial capital Mumbai just before 12:50 pm (0720 GMT) on Saturday.

    Obama will spend a busy three days in India, including a meeting with top Indian and US business leaders. He will travel to the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Sunday.

    During his stay in Mumbai, Obama and his wife Michelle will stay at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the scene of deadly fighting when a group of armed men attacked several landmarks across the city in 2008, claiming 166 lives.

    After arriving in Mumbai, Obama met survivors of the attack and paid tribute to those who died at a permanent memorial erected at the luxury seafront hotel, which was the focus of the militant assault and where 31 people, including 12 staff members, were killed.  

    Obama hailed the Taj Mahal Palace hotel as a symbol of India's "strength" and "resilience" and said the US and India "stand united" against such attacks.

    Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Mumbai, said it was an opportunity for the president to bring to the forefront the issue of dealing with "insurgent groups around the world".

    "This was also an opportunity to forge an emotional bond with the people of India - given the depravity of the attacks given the fact that the city was held hostage for three days," she said.


    Prerna Suri reports from New Delhi on how defence co-operation is a crucial feature in US-India relations

    Meanwhile, security is tight for the visit, with roads closed, a ban enforced on sea traffic off the coast, and the plaza near the Taj and Gateway of India monument sealed off.

    "His personal charisma has travelled ahead of him," Mohan Guruswamy of the Centre for Policy Alternatives told Al Jazeera.

    "Unlike [Bill] Clinton and [George W.] Bush, he's visiting India in his first term," he said. 

    His Asian tour will also take Obama to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, where he intends to blend trade talks and other economic diplomacy with assurances to Asian allies worried by an increasingly assertive China.

    Obama is expected to announce a "comprehensive partnership" including economic ties in Indonesia, attend a G20 summit of global economic powers in Seoul and participate in an Asia-Pacific economic forum in Yokohama, Japan.

    White House officials accompanying the president said the trip would be "highly significant".

    "It will take the relationship to a different level, going beyond bilateral issues to a more global partnership," Tom Donilon, Obama's national security adviser, told reporters travelling to India aboard Air Force One with the president.

    Our correspondent said that the US president would have to be politically careful not to appear too willing to open US markets.

    "Indian entrepreneurs will be looking for ways to gain a toe-hold in the all-important American consumer market."

    The administration plans 17 or 18 announcements during the trip on a range of economic, security and political issues, White House officials said.

    China on agenda

    Obama's trip comes just days after his Democratic Party suffered significant reverses during US midterm elections.

    Aides have confirmed that Obama will raise the controversial issue of China's yuan currency throughout the trip - as well as discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons and Chinese human rights when he meets with his Chinese counterpart during the G20.

    American officials say Beijing keeps the yuan's value low to aid Chinese exports to the US at the expense of American jobs.

    In recent weeks, regional tensions have also flared over territorial disputes with Japan and over Chinese exports of rare earth minerals needed to make many high-tech products.

    Obama seeks to double US exports in five years and the administration is working to remove obstacles to a long-stalled free trade agreement with South Korea in time for Obama's meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul.

    Failure would send a negative signal about US openness to more trade, after an election campaign marked by protectionist rhetoric towards China and outsourcing hubs like India.

    "There are very high expectations (that Obama can deliver a Free Trade Agreement) in Korea, not just in Korea, but in the region," Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said.

    "The FTA is important in terms of perceptions of the US presence and leadership in Asia," Cha said.

    Rebuffed domestically on Tuesday by the loss of control of the US House of Representatives to Republicans, Obama can count on a warm reception in Asia where many leaders want American power to counter Beijing, although some observers questioned how much the trip will yield given pressures at home.

    "Obama is going to be too preoccupied domestically, and you won't see a more aggressive foreign policy going forward," Amitabh Mattoo, professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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