8 a.m. ET: Though his term in the White House has been relatively short, President Obama has already gotten accustomed to criticism from some quarters for his forays abroad. His April trip to Europe, his June speech to the Muslim world in Cairo and his July visit to Russia were all dismissed as too apologetic, too unassertive or too unproductive by conservatives. So what will the verdict be on his current jaunt to Asia?
Obama held a town hall meeting Monday with students in Shangai, and the jury is out on whether the gathering projected the importance of open and free debate, or the opposite. Obama met "with a carefully screened group of students at the marquee event of his Asia trip," the Washington Post writes, one that "illustrated the Chinese government's tight grip" on society. Though Obama spoke of the "universal rights" of "freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation," the Post adds, "Virtually every aspect of the event was staged, and it was unclear how many Chinese citizens saw the hour-long exchange, which was not broadcast on national television." The Wall Street Journal also noted that Obama's words "likely reached few Chinese," unlike those of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, whose remarks were broadcast live when they visited the country.
But the Associated Press emphasized the president's message rather than the details of the event, with a lede saying Obama "gave China a pointed, unexpected nudge to stop censoring the Internet access of its own people, offering an animated defense of the tool that helped him win the White House — and telling his tightly controlled hosts not to be wary of a little criticism." The New York Times calls Obama's message "a rare challenge to Chinese authorities, but expressed in Mr. Obama’s now familiar nuance." As for why Obama isn't getting more media coverage in China, it may not be just fear on the part of authorities. The Financial Times writes"Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, China has been immune to the popular love-in that surrounded the Obama election," adding that "China was also one of the few places in the world that was quite happy with George W. Bush." Bloomberg notes that Obama also met Sunday with the prime minister of Myanmar "and other Southeast Asian leaders as part of U.S. efforts to counter China’s influence in the region."
As for the overall goals of the trip, the Wall Street Journal writes that Obama arrived in China Sunday "amid rising concerns that his first swing through Asia as president will yield more disappointment than progress on trade, human rights, national security and environmental concerns." Climate change is a particular source of worry on the left, after Obama and fellow world leaders decided in Singapore that they will not be able to reach a sweeping climate pact before next month's UN summit in Copenhagen. "The admission places Mr. Obama in the awkward position of being, at least for now, as unlikely to spearhead an international effort to combat global warming as his predecessor — if for different reasons," the New York Times writes.
But there's another theory in play -- that this concession actually improves the chances of a domestic deal. "White House officials and many environmentalists say the leaders may have boosted the chances for the U.S. Congress to pass landmark limits on greenhouse gas emissions," the Los Angeles Times reports, explaining that "scaled-back action in Copenhagen could help push a Senate bill over the top by securing pledges for emissions reductions from China and India, and thereby reassuring moderate Rust Belt Democrats." Also in Singapore, Obama had a lengthy meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, and the two presidents "pledged to work together to hem in Iran's nuclear program and renew a nuclear disarmament treaty that is set to expire in less than three weeks," the Washington Times writes.
Before going to China, Obama took some heat for bowing to the Japanese emperor, something that American presidents apparently should not do. The White House says Obama was simply following "protocol." (Jake Tapper writes that both the right and left are wrong on this: President Nixon also bowed to the Japanese emperor, but Obama got the mechanics of the bow wrong and went too low.)
During his Shangai event, Obama emphasized that "the greatest threat to the United States' security are the terrorist networks like al Qaeda," a reminder that the president's decision on the way forward in Afghanistan is still pending. While Obama is in Asia, James Jones went to Islamabad, the New York Times reports, as "the Obama administration is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to expand and reorient its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, warning that failing to do so would undercut the new strategy and troop increase for Afghanistan that President Obama is preparing to approve." Time says, "The simple answer to the Administration's dilemma, in the minds of many in Washington, is to train and equip Afghans to do the job themselves." But "the Afghan forces are unlikely anytime in the near future to be ready and willing to take over the fight against the Taliban." The Afghan government is also struggling to combat corruption in its own ranks, and Hillary Clinton emphasized Sunday that ""President Karzai and his government can do better."
On the home front, health care will continue to dominate the agenda this week. Harry Reid "is confident he’ll be able to kick off debate on a massive health care reform measure before Thanksgiving," Roll Call writes, even though the CBO score he had hoped to have by now isn't ready yet. Bloomberg says Reid's bill "is likely to divide his Democratic Party." Politico runs through "the biggest land mines" in the House and Senate reform bills, and offers a separate story on the complicated interaction between abortion, health insurance and government funding under both current law and the Stupak amendment. As for the pro-reform pharmaceutical industry, of whom liberals are already suspicious, the New York Times writes: "Even as drug makers promise to support Washington’s health care overhaul by shaving $8 billion a year off the nation’s drug costs after the legislation takes effect, the industry has been raising its prices at the fastest rate in years."
November 16, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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