TOKYO — President Obama declared today that an era of American disengagement in the globe's fastest-growing region is over and warned that the U.S. and its Asian partners "will not be cowed" by North Korea's continued defiance over its nuclear weapons and other provocations.
"It should be clear where that path leads," Obama said. "We will continue to send a clear message through our actions, and not just our words: North Korea's refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security, not more."
Calling for greater U.S. engagement in Asia, Obama said Americans should not fear a robust China, but he cautioned that all nations must respect human rights, including religious freedoms.
"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," Obama said.
More broadly, the president's speech before 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 and more equal engagement in Asia. It was the fifth major foreign address of Obama's 10-month presidency, this one geared toward setting a new tone for the sometimes-rocky U.S. relationship with the region.
Acknowledging Asia's growing power and perception of America's parallel decline here, Obama aides and the president himself had said the chief aim for his eight-day trip through Asia wasn't so much to bring home specific "deliverables" but to convincingly press the point that the U.S. very much is in the Asian game.
In his scene-setting speech of those travels, Obama promised that Washington would work hard to strengthen already established 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.
"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," he said. "The fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more closely linked than ever before."