Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama in Asia: The First Pacific President Attends APEC Summit & Gala Dinner in Singapore, Speaks on US-Asia Policy at Suntory Hall in Japan

Ending restrictions on food trade, a Singapore Evening, and some presidential foodie memories
Last night, President Obama arrived in Singapore, and attended the Gala Dinner at the APEC Summit.* The attending leaders were given traditional garb for the dinner, and had a choice between red shirts and blue. President Obama, of course, chose blue.
APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and has 21 member countries. One of the primary goals of this week's meeting is the development of a region-wide free trade area, which would account for half the world's imports and exports if it becomes a reality. During meetings over the past few days, leaders have been discussing ending all restrictions on food trade, which is a major percentage of the economic pie. It's also something that is problematic, in part due to food safety problems from countries such as China, which exports huge amounts of food products, but also has a long history of poisoning the rest of the world, with things such as melamine in dairy products, toxins in pork, incredibly high levels of medical residues in poultry products. The dinner, however, officially called "Singapore Evening," was an opportunity for visiting leaders to policy wonk in a relaxed setting. On the Gala Dinner menu: Traditional Singapore dishes, including Chili crab, laksa and chicken rice. (Above, at dinner: President Obama with, from left, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, China's President Hu Jintao, New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon)

The Amida Buddha, ice cream, and the First Pacific President
On Friday night, following a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the President had a private dinner with the Prime Minister at the Kantei, the seat of government. On Saturday afternoon, he addressed a huge crowd at Suntory Hall in Tokyo (above), and discussed trade, anti nuclear proliferation, civil rights, and the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the US partnership with Japan. In his remarks, the President recalled foodie childhood memories of Japan, from a trip with his mother, Ann Dunham:

Some of you may be aware that when I was a young boy, my mother brought me to Kamakura, where I looked up at that centuries-old symbol of peace and tranquility -- the great bronze Amida Buddha. And as a child, I was more focused on the matcha ice cream. [Laughter.] And I want to thank Prime Minister Hatoyama for sharing some of those memories with more ice cream last night at dinner. [Laughter and applause.]

During his speech, President Obama pointed out that he's the first Pacific President, thanks to being born and living in Hawaii, and part of his childhood being spent in Indonesia and traveling around the Pacific with his mother, as she did research for her doctoral dissertation (forthcoming this month as a book). --But also because of the critical importance of the region for global security, trade, and the necessary alliance with America. Read the full text of the President's remarks at Suntory Hall here.

*Japan is a couple of time zones ahead of America. *Leaders photo courtesy of APEC Singapore 2009; President Obama by AP