BEIJING — Countries across Asia are welcoming the re-election of President Barack Obama and many have responded to the election results by voicing their desire to improve ties with Washington. There is one relationship in the region that many feel is key for Obama to get right during his second term in office and that is Washington’s ties with China.
It is clear from China’s official and initial response to the results that it wants the two countries ties to improve and is aware of how broad the impact of relations can be.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says China is willing to work together with the United States, look to the future and continue to push forward cooperation to better serve the people of both countries and the world.
As China’s influence in Asia grows, the country is becoming increasingly assertive in its territorial claims. This has put it at odds at times with its neighbors and the United States.
At the same time, the United States launched a new policy in Asia earlier this year that seeks to refocus its attention on Asia, the so-called "pivot to Asia." The shift is being welcomed by several countries in the region.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak is the director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Security and International Studies.
"President Obama's administration has treated Southeast Asia as a region, not just as a system of hub and spokes traditionally in U.S. foreign policy," he said. "But, as a region, very sophisticated this time. And, he's building on that. At the same time, it's also designed to counter-balance China."
Japan, which has seen itself increasingly embroiled in a dispute with China in recent months about islands in the East China Sea, welcomes the president’s re-election and his efforts to put more emphasis on the Asian region.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura says that, as the security environment in East Asia steadily gets worse, the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance is increasing. He says that Japan hopes President Obama will continue to develop this alliance.
South Korea has also welcomed the re-election of Obama. A spokesperson says President Lee Myung-bak sent a congratulatory letter that praised relations with Washington as having become more steady under President Obama.
And, in Burma, where the United States has boosted trade and political ties following the country’s political reforms, authorities say Obama’s victory means they can build on the relationship, rather than starting over with a new administration under Mitt Romney.
Zaw Htay, the director of the Burmese President Thein Sein’s office, says he believes the two countries’ relationship can be stronger than before. He says Obama’s foreign policy on Burma is supported by both the House and Senate.
Out on the streets in Beijing, most were glad to hear that President Obama was re-elected, but it was also clear that some felt the two countries still needed to improve ties.
Guan, a 28-year-old trader, says he supports Obama. Guan says that, although he does not feel there are any huge issues between China and the U.S., there are some sensitive issues like the Diaoyu Islands in which there are some differences. He adds that there might also be some matters related to trade, for example, in which the United States might interfere a bit too much.
Other Beijing residents felt that the two countries are suffering a cultural disconnect, that they really did not understand one another. But, they say the fact that Obama has been re-elected will give the two countries more time to improve relations.