US President Barack Obama hosts a summit on Sunday of Asia-Pacific leaders after announcing ambitious plans for a pan-regional trade zone that have frayed relations with regional rival China.
As Obama welcomed regional leaders to his palm-fringed home state of Hawaii, Japan boosted the nascent Trans-Pacific Partnership by announcing it would join talks on what could become the world’s biggest free trade area.
But the president, who has dubbed himself America’s first Pacific president, balanced his calls for regional unity with a challenge to emerging economic superpower China to sign up to developed world trade standards.
“We represent close to three billion people, from different continents and cultures; North, South, East and West; men and women of every faith, colour and creed,” Obama said as he welcomed regional leaders at the summit.
Obama, under domestic pressure as he seeks re-election at a time when many heartland Americans think they lost their jobs to low-wage China, told Chinese President Hu Jintao that Americans were “impatient” for a change of Beijing’s economic policy.
Obama “made it very clear that the American people and American business community were growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with the state of change,” said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, would strike down tariffs and trade barriers and inject momentum to liberalisation hopes bogged down by inconclusive talks on the Doha trade round.
In Hawaii, the pact got a fresh boost when new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda committed to exploring talks about joining the pact in a move that ran counter to years of political paralysis in Tokyo.