TOKYO — President Barack Obama declared today that an era of American disengagement in the globe's fastest-growing region is over and warned that the United States and its Asian partners "will not be cowed" by North Korea's continued defiance over its nuclear weapons and other provocations.
Obama also said a robust China should be welcomed, not feared, as a powerful partner on urgent challenges. Addressing Americans' worries about the economic and security threat from China's rising might and Asians' skepticism about U.S leadership, the president said: "We welcome China's efforts to play a greater role on the world stage, a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility."
In a 40-minute speech, Obama offered incentives for North Korea to abandon the nuclear weapons it is believed to already have and the production program it continues in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He outlined a possible future of economic opportunity and greater global respect, saying, "this respect cannot be earned through belligerence."
More broadly, the president's address to 1,500 prominent Japanese in a soaring downtown Tokyo concert hall was intended to showcase a United States that, under Obama's leadership, seeks deeper engagement in Asia. It was the fifth major foreign address of his 10-month presidency. He reached out to locals through several personal notes that delighted his audience, including calling himself "America's first Pacific president," referring to his boyhood time in Indonesia and travels in Asia, and saluting the residents of Obama, Japan.
Obama said Washington would work hard to strengthen alliances in Asia, such as with Japan and South Korea, build on newer ones with nations like China and Indonesia, and increase its participation with a burgeoning alphabet soup of Asian multilateral organizations. The involvement affects top-priority issues such as jobs, a cleaner environment and preventing dangerous weapons proliferation, he said.
"I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this region, because what happens here has a direct effect on our lives at home," Obama said.