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October 07, 2013

Kerry Defends US Commitment to Asia at APEC

by Kate Lamb

Filling in for the president, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has reassured Asian leaders of the U.S. commitment to the region. Kerry said the partial U.S. government shutdown is a mere footnote, and in a hyper globalized world a secure economic system is the best antidote to religious fundamentalism.

After U.S. President Barack Obama was forced to stay home and address the government deadlock, Secretary of State John Kerry reassured APEC leaders gathered in Bali, Indonesia, that American commitment to the region is unwavering.

Joking that when he campaigned to replace the president in 2004 this is not what he had in mind, Kerry said the United States would bounce back and the shutdown would quickly pass.

"I guarantee you we will move beyond this, and we will move beyond it with strength and determination," said Kerry.

Obama’s absence at the summit of economic heavyweights, part of his canceled Asian tour, however, has prompted criticism that America’s much-touted "Asia pivot" also is transient.

China gains leverage

U.S. attention has continued to be occupied by political instability in the Middle East and a civil war in Syria, all at a time when China is shoring up regional ties.

Analysts say Obama’s absence has given China a critical advantage.

In a prelude to the APEC summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a $33-billion trade deal with Indonesia and pledged to significantly boost trade with neighboring Malaysia by 2017.

At the APEC summit, the U.S. president had planned to push forward on negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], a U.S.-led trade bloc that excludes China.

The TPP will formalize open market access between 12 major economies, including Japan, Canada and Mexico.

Speaking at the forum on Monday, Kerry stressed the trade initiative remains a key element of the Obama’s administration Asia pivot.

"We understand how critical this is. At its core, TPP is about generating growth for our economies and jobs for our people by unleashing a wave of investment and entrepreneurship, all across the Asia Pacific. This comes at a time when we all seek strong and sustainable growth. TPP is creating a race to the top, not to the bottom," he said.

APEC’s 21 member countries account for more than half of global GDP and about 44 percent of world trade.

Obama’s decision to skip this year’s summit drew the sympathies of Russian President Vladamir Putin.

Putin comments

Putin said the U.S. situation is not easy and Obama’s decision to skip APEC was "quite justified." "If I was in a similar situation," said Putin, "I would not come either. Nor would any other head of state."

As the world’s largest economy, Putin said solving the U.S. shutdown as swiftly as possible is in the interests of all.

Speaking to the strength of the global economy, Kerry also said that in today’s hyper globalized world, economic security is the best antidote to religious fundamentalism.

"In a world where vast populations of young people are exploding on the scene with aspirations and demands all interconnected by the social media, at that time, anarchy and terror are sometimes offered as alternatives to the fulfillment of those jobs and opportunity," said Kerry.

The comments come on the back of two consecutive raids by U.S. forces against two high value terrorist targets in Somalia and Libya. The Libyan raid resulted in the capture of a leading al-Qaida leader.

Following the APEC meeting that ends Monday, John Kerry will travel with a U.S. delegation to Brunei to attend the East Asia Summit.