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Obama Brings Economic, Security Assurances on Asia-Pacific Trip

President Barack Obama departs this week for Hawaii where he will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, formed in 1989 to improve economic cooperation and liberalize trade among its member nations.  Mr. Obama brings economic and security assurances on his nine-day trip that also includes Australia and the East Asia Summit in Bali.

The 21 APEC leaders last gathered in the United States in 1993, when former President Bill Clinton hosted in Seattle.

The summit comes as President Barack Obama continues his efforts to jolt the U.S. economy out of recession and underscores the importance of free trade in helping to create jobs, and the challenge of competition from Asian economies, particularly China.

Ernest Bower with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Mr. Obama will also be sending a message to Americans back home. "He has got to make the case that if we are going to move out of our economic slowdown, or recession, or whatever it is, that Asia is part of the answer, and being back on a forward foot on trade is going to be absolutely key to that," he said.

APEC has tried for more than a decade to build a large Asia-Pacific free-trade zone.  But the United States and eight other APEC members are expected to announce a framework agreement for a smaller trade group, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

China has voiced concerns over the trade group.  Analyst Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Even though APEC is not a trade negotiating organization, it is the right framework of countries to move forward with a trans-Pacific trade architecture at a time when many in Asia are saying we should have an East Asian-only trade architecture," he said.

Complex economic and security relationships with China, including rivalries over the South China Sea, are a backdrop to Mr. Obama's travels.

Before APEC, top U.S. officials toured the region, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns. "In a complex relationship like this one, neither conflict nor cooperation is pre-ordained.  As China's role in world affairs grows, keeping this relationship on a productive track will be a defining challenge for both sides," he said.

Bower, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says U.S. security assurances to the region are a backdrop to Mr. Obama's visit to Australia, which will allow expanded access for the U.S. military. "The U.S. security presence is very much welcomed to balance what is perceived as some recent Chinese aggression, particularly in the South China Sea, also in the Senkaku, or Diaoyu [islands] up north," he said.

President Obama's trip comes at a crucial time back home, as a November 23rd deadline approaches for a congressional committee to agree on $1.2 trillion in government spending cuts.

That decision, or failure to reach a compromise, will have far-reaching effects and will be watched closely by the Asia-Pacific leaders Mr. Obama meets with on his trip.

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