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Asian Nations Welcome Obama, Renewed US Engagement

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President Barak Obama is to take his first official trip to Asia this month with stops in Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. In Singapore Mr. Obama will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and meets with many Southeast Asia leaders for the first time. Many Asian nations are welcoming signs of renewed American engagement, though some are disappointed Mr. Obama will not visit them on this trip.

In his first trip to Asia as president, Mr. Obama is expected to emphasize a renewed relationship and cooperation between the U.S. and Asia.

His first stop is Japan, underscoring the importance of U.S.- Japanese relations at a time when they are being strained over the new government's review of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian studies at Japan's Temple University. Of particular concern is an agreement to move a U.S. Marine Corps base on the island of Okinawa, an agreement that would be difficult to renegotiate.

"That took forever to negotiate. There's lots of blood on the floor. A lot of chits were called in. Lots of people cooperated to get that done," he said. "This is not an easy process. It took a long time and there is lots of bad blood," said Kingston.

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Mr. Obama then attends the APEC forum in Singapore. There, leaders from 21 Pacific Rim nations will discuss efforts to improve the global economy and world trade while reducing environmental damage and the effects of rising global temperatures.

He will hold his first formal talks with all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Burma.

The U.S. has economic sanctions on Burma because of its human rights record, but the Obama administration has moved away from isolating the country and hopes to engage it to push for change. ASEAN encourages that new policy.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan says improved U.S. engagement with not only Burma but all of Asia is infusing a new energy into the region.

"The last eight years or the last nine years, we haven't seen much willingness on the part of the U.S.," said Pitsuwan, "Maybe because the U.S. has been preoccupied somewhere else and the problems in Southeast Asia and East Asia were not critical enough to require the American involvement, American attention. Well, it's a new approach, it's a new beginning," he said.

President Obama also visits China to foster a relationship seen as one of the most important for world growth.

U.S.-China relations are occasionally stressed over concerns about China's human rights record and growing economic and political influence, but trade is expected to be at the top of the agenda.

Mr. Obama's last stop is South Korea, where talks are expected to focus on how to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear programs.

In Indonesia where Mr. Obama spent four years of his childhood, people are disappointed that he will not be visiting on this trip.

At the school where Mr. Obama once studied, Mayzayani, the mother of a student, expressed her regret.

She says they have been waiting for Obama to visit. Hopefully he will come later on.

U.S. officials say Mr. Obama will visit Indonesia next year to showcase the importance of growing relations with the world's most populous Muslim nation.