YOKOHAMA, Japan — President Barack Obama claimed a stronger hand on the world stage Friday despite electoral defeats at home, failure to get a free-trade agreement with South Korea and lackluster international support for his get-tough policy with China on trade and currency disputes.
“It wasn’t any easier to talk about currency when I was first elected and my poll numbers were at 65 percent,” Obama argued at the close of the G-20 summit, after bluntly accusing Beijing of undervaluing its currency.
The president flew to Japan for the APEC summit without the coveted trade pact with Korea or a united front with other countries against China’s currency policy. He also endured a gusher of criticism from other countries about a decision by the U.S. central bank to pump $600 billion into the U.S. economy, something China, Germany and others believe could weaken the dollar and lead to inflation.
After the talks here beginning Saturday, Obama will return to the U.S. to confront Republicans empowered by their gains in this month’s midterm elections.
Even so, the president contended that his standing with world leaders is not diminished.
“When I came into office people might have been interested in more photo-ops,” the president said, because of the “hoopla surrounding my election.”
But he contended he has now developed genuine friendships with leaders including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak – and even Chinese President Hu Jintao.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be differences,” the president added.
Those have been on stark display throughout the G-20 summit, which resulted in a final document in which leaders agreed on various measures to achieve economic stability, none of them enforceable or specific.
Obama contended this constituted victory nonetheless, even as he acknowledged that America’s place in the world has changed – and even if he wouldn’t say his had.
Whereas the U.S. had been the dominant superpower, “We are now seeing a situation where a whole host of other countries are doing well and coming into their own and naturally they’re going to be more assertive … and that’s a healthy thing,” the president said.
Obama told a news conference here that progress was made in stabilizing and strengthening the global economy, saying it is now back on “the path of recovery.” But he also said that nations “risk slipping back” into peril if they don’t work harder to foster sustained growth, end unfair trade practices and currency manipulation. Obama argued that “countries with large surpluses must shift away from unhealthy dependency on exports” and said that exchange rates “must reflect economic realities.”
China’s currency “is undervalued,” the president declared, adding that Beijing “spends enormous amounts of money” to keep the yuan in that condition. He said that it’s critical for China, “in a gradual fashion,” to let markets set the currency’s value.