Obama Visits Asia, Australia: Strikes Climate Change Deal, Urges Tolerance, Discusses Threats to Peace at G20


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

President Obama kicked off a week-long visit to the Pacific Rim on Nov. 10 in Beijing, where he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference, followed by stops in Myanmar and Australia to meet with government leaders at the G20 summit in Brisbane. The visits come a week after the President and the Democratic Party faced massive upsets in the midterm elections, which left the Republicans with a majority in the U.S. Senate and an overall stronger control over the legislature.

Several agreements were announced between the United States and China during the President’s APEC visit. In a surprise announcement, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to drastically cut the carbon emissions of the world’s two biggest polluters. According to the White House, the United States will be reducing its carbon emissions by 26 percent, while China would both peak its carbon emissions and increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 20 percent by 2030.

“This is an ambitious goal, but it’s an achievable goal,” Obama said. “It will double the pace at which we’re reducing carbon pollution in the United States. It puts us on a path to achieving the deep emissions reductions by advanced economies that the scientific community says is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change.”

The United Nations recently released a report arguing that scientific evidence unequivocally suggests that climate change is real, caused by man-made factors, and that its deadly environmental effects are visible on every continent. The report also urges world leaders and policy makers to start engaging in efforts to cut emissions now, before the projected effects of climate change become even more dangerous. This move by the U.S. and China is likely to galvanize other nations hesitant to act on climate change to implement reforms in the interest of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and invest more greatly in alternative energy sources.

Other deals struck during the President’s visit to China included a commitment from both nations to extend travel visas in both directions. Travel visas would be extended to five to 10 years, instead of just one year. “Under the new arrangement, student and exchange visas will be extended to five years… business and tourist visas will be extended to 10 years,” said Obama in a speech at the APEC summit. The U.S. and China also agreed to eliminating tariffs on high-tech products.

The President followed his stay in China with a visit to Myanmar on Nov. 13 to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference. Obama also met with the Burmese president, Thein Sein, at the Presidential Palace, as well as with famed Burmese Nobel laureate and politician Aung San Suu Kyi. He encouraged the Southeast Asian country’s efforts towards a functioning democracy and advocated for religious tolerance following over a half century of military dictatorship. The President called on Myanmar to end discrimination against the persecuted Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist state. The 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya Muslims currently live in apartheid-like conditions and are not granted equal rights by the Burmese government. According to the Chicago Tribune, “almost 140,000 Rohingya people are in camps after being displaced in clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.”

Obama traveled to Australia on Nov. 16 for the G20 summit. The President stressed that the threat of Ebola, the so-called Islamic State, and aggressive relations between Russia and Ukraine are among the biggest threats to the Asia Pacific region. “We’re leading in dealing with Ebola in West Africa and in opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17,” said Obama in a speech at Queensland University in Brisbane. Obama also announced a pledge of $3 billion from the United States to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which helps poor and developing countries invest in clean energy.