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Obama Re-emerges on Global Stage With Trip to Asia, France


Former President Barack Obama addresses the crowd as the last speaker at final session of the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Nov. 1, 2017.

Just two weeks after the U.S. president met with China’s leader in Beijing, Donald Trump’s immediate predecessor is to do the same.

Former President Barack Obama is also to meet this week in India with that country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi before flying to France.

The former president’s team is playing down any notion that Obama is seeking to undercut or overshadow the current president.

“I would note that it’s common for former presidents to visit countries after they’ve left office and to meet with foreign leaders,” Obama communications director Katie Hill tells VOA. “This trip is a pretty standard one for the president, in that it’s a mix of speeches, Obama Foundation work, and catching up with foreign leaders, similar to other trips he’s taken to Europe and South America this year.”

Trump has forged close ties with both Xi and Modi during the first 10 months of his presidency, which some critics have assailed for undermining America’s global leadership role enjoyed during the post-World War Two era.

Obama began his overseas trip Tuesday in Shanghai with private meetings and speaking at a trade summit.

The Xi meeting is scheduled for Wednesday where Obama is also to join an education summit.

Obama has “forged a close and cooperative partnership with President Xi on issues ranging from growing the global economy to combating climate change, and he looks forward to catching up with his former counterpart,” says Hill.

A significant accomplishment of the Obama administration was a bilateral climate accord with China in 2014, a precursor to the Paris Agreement. That climate change mitigation pact, agreed to by nearly every nation, has been rejected by President Trump who intends to withdraw the United States from it.

Obama has several events planned later this week in India, including a town hall event with young leaders.

“The Town Hall will expand the conversation about what it means to be an active citizen and to promote positive change,” says Hill.

The former president then flies to Paris to hold meetings, participate in a communications industry summit and, according to local media reports, he will be hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron at a private Elysee Palace dinner.

“There may be much more interesting things going on than in a usual former presidents’ trip which would be mostly focused on pet projects and other possibly other trade issues,” according to Professor Marc Gopin, who runs the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.

Gopin notes global concern about the Trump administration’s unconventional diplomatic approach and the president’s renunciation of multi-lateral trade pacts. He speculates the leaders in Beijing, New Delhi and Paris may want an alternative perspective from Obama on the U.S. role in confronting rising tensions in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula.

The State Department certainly had advance knowledge of Obama’s itinerary. But officials will not directly reply queries on whether U.S. diplomats assisted in planning meetings for Obama, who traveled to China with his Secret Service security detail.

“As the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service is the most widely represented American security and law enforcement organization around the world, the U.S. Secret Service often coordinates with DSS during operations abroad,” a State Department official, who does not want to be named, tells VOA.

As has been the tradition for former presidents, Obama has steered clear of frequent commentary on current events and he has given no indication his latest overseas trip is a message about the international policies of his successor.

The White House has not responded to a query on its stance on the Obama trip and the president has made no note of it in his frequent tweets.

“There is no White House. There’s only a man with a Twitter. And that man with a Twitter is capable of saying anything at any moment,” says Gopin. “So, of course, he’s going to see it as a threat. I don’t think Tillerson will. I think Tillerson and State Department employees are interested in stability and so is a good deal of the rest of the infrastructure of the government.”