U.S. President Barack Obama trumpeted Indonesia’s growing economic and strategic clout, saying trade between both nations is critical to creating jobs at home, just hours after the White House announced he’ll cut short the trip to his boyhood home to avoid volcanic ash from Mount Merapi.
In a press conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Obama also looked ahead to this week’s Group of 20 summit in South Korea, saying that while the forum has stabilized the global economy, it hasn’t secured balanced growth because some countries are intervening “very significantly in the currency markets.” Obama didn’t single out China, which the U.S. is pushing to allow its currency to rise, saying an undervalued yuan gives China’s exports an unfair advantage.
Obama arrived in Jakarta today from India, where on Nov. 6 he began a four-country tour of Asia focused on economic issues and boosting exports. As China’s economic and diplomatic clout grows, Obama has made a priority of engaging other Asian states, particularly the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With a population of about 600 million, Southeast Asia was America’s fifth-largest trading partner and the fourth-biggest market for U.S. goods last year.
Obama said Indonesia, a member of the G-20, the world’s third-largest democracy, and the largest democracy in Southeast Asia, presents a dynamic marketplace to expand security cooperation and trade, investment and commercial ties.
Pillars of Partnership
“From our prosperity, expanding partnerships between our people and deepening political and security cooperation, these are the pillars of our new partnership,” Obama said. “Our two nations have only begun to forge the cooperation that’s possible.”
Indonesia’s benchmark Jakarta Composite Index has risen 46 percent this year compared with a 12.1 percent gain for the MSCI Asia Pacific Index.
The two presidents initiated a five-year program today to enhance a partnership on issues including climate change, counterterrorism, combating Iran’s nuclear program and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Obama said he would like to see the East Asia Summit -- a forum of 16 nations -- become the “premier” structure to work on security issues and “how various maritime issues, conflicts, can get resolved in a peaceful fashion.”
East Asia Summit
The U.S. is preparing to formally join the East Asia Summit as part of its strategy to assert leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Asia is the fastest growing part of the world. It’s the fastest growing in terms of population, it’s the fastest growing set of economies and so there’s enormous potential and enormous promise,” Obama said.
The White House also announced a plan to provide $165 million over five years for education and establishing partnerships with 25 U.S. institutions including Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Columbia University in New York. The Obama administration also plans to provide $136 million for a joint project that would establish a climate- change center in Indonesia.
Tomorrow in Jakarta, Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech to 6,000 people at the University of Indonesia that highlights the coexistence of democracy and Islam in Indonesia and the country’s ability to set a positive example in the world because of its emerging economy and pluralism, said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Boyhood in Indonesia
Obama will also reflect in his speech on the time he spent in Indonesia as a young boy as well as the rapid development and democratization that’s taken place since he left in 1971, Rhodes said. Obama has said the time he spent there helped shape his world view because of the intersecting streams of globalization and sectarianism, poverty and wealth, modernity and antiquity.
Obama first arrived in Indonesia at a turning point for the nation -- two years after a 1965 coup in which more than 500,000 people were killed, most accused of having ties to communists, and as President Suharto came to power.
The former dictator, who died in 2008, left a legacy of stability and economic growth. Indonesia’s economy expanded 6.1 percent annually in the 1980s, making it among the 10 fastest growing states, according to the World Bank.
During the press conference, Obama said it was “wonderful” to be back and noted that the “sights and the sounds and the memories all feel very familiar.”
While his last visit to Indonesia was in 1992, Obama said he was still struck today by how different it is returning as president. He took note of the urban development which stood in stark contrast to the rickshaw-filled streets of 1967.
“Now as president I can’t even see any traffic because they’ve blocked off all the streets,” Obama said.
Obama will depart Indonesia several hours earlier tomorrow than previously scheduled to avoid volcanic ash spewing from Mount Merapi, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. The president still plans to visit a mosque in addition to his university address before leaving for Seoul for the G-20 summit.
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