November 21, 2016
US President Barack Obama wrapped up his final official trip abroad with a call for his successor Donald Trump to live up to America’s responsibility as an “indispensable nation” in the world, and to bolster the international order it had helped create.
Amid fears that Mr Trump’s election victory on the back of a populist anti-internationalist wave could lead to a US pullback from its leadership role in the world, the outgoing president called for his successor to embrace the gravity of the American presidency.
“The United States really is an indispensable nation in our world order,” Mr Obama told reporters at the conclusion of the 21-country Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru.
Mr Obama has spent most of his past week’s travels to Europe and Peru reassuring allies that Mr Trump’s election would not bring an abrupt change in US policy despite the Republican’s campaign pledges to take an “America First” approach to foreign and economic policy. Mr Trump has promised to rip up or renegotiate trade agreements and pull the US out of other treaties such as the recent Paris climate agreement.
“You can’t assume that the language of campaigning matches up with the specifics of governing,” Mr Obama said on Sunday.
The world, he said, was healthier, wealthier and freer as a result of the US-led liberal order established at the end of the second world war. And “while we all share responsibility for improving that order” only the US is now in a position to carry the burden of leadership, he said.
“We are not going to be able to handle every problem, but the American president and the United States of America, if we’re not on the side of what’s right, if we’re not making the argument and fighting for it … then it collapses,” he said. “There’s nobody to fill the void.”
While China had played a role in pulling together the Paris agreement, it had not done what the US had in corralling 200 nations into signing the deal, Mr Obama said. Mr Trump has called climate change a “hoax” invented by China to gain economic advantage and vowed to pull the US out of the deal.
Likewise, “Russia is a very significant military power,” Mr Obama said, “but they’re not worrying right now about how to rebuild after a hurricane in Haiti. We are.”
Mr Obama’s call came at the end of a summit which saw China’s Xi Jinping tout Beijing’s role as the new leading advocate for free trade in the Asia-Pacific in the wake of Mr Trump’s election.
Mr Obama has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which includes Japan and 10 other economies but not China, the economic heart of his “pivot” to Asia, a strategic attempt to reassert US leadership in the region.
But Mr Trump’s opposition to the deal and the reluctance of even pro-trade Republicans in Congress to defy the incoming president has killed the prospects of US ratification any time soon.
“TPP is a plus for America’s economy, America’s workers, American jobs … and not moving forward would undermine our position across the region,” Mr Obama said.
Mr Obama said he would give Mr Trump the space he needed to form an administration and set his agenda. But he stopped short of promising not to criticise his successor as has been the custom in the past.
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