Obama says West must focus on China, not Russia

Obama downplayed Moscow's role in the world, dismissing President Vladimir Putin as a leader causing short-term trouble for political gain that will hurt Russia in the long term

Obama says West must focus on China, not Russia

World Bulletin/News Desk

President Barack Obama dismissed Russia as a nation that "doesn't make anything" and said in an interview with the Economist magazine that the West needs to be "pretty firm" with China as Beijing pushes to expand its role in the world economy.

Obama has tried to focus U.S. foreign policy on Asia, a response to China's economic and military might. But for months, that "pivot" has been overshadowed by a flurry of international crises, including Russia's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is the world's third-largest oil producer and second-largest natural gas producer. Europe relies heavily on Russian energy exports, complicating the West's response to the Ukraine crisis.

Obama downplayed Moscow's role in the world, dismissing President Vladimir Putin as a leader causing short-term trouble for political gain that will hurt Russia in the long term.

"I do think it's important to keep perspective. Russia doesn't make anything," Obama said in the interview.

"Immigrants aren't rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking," he said.

Obama told Putin last week that he believes Russia violated the 1988 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty designed to eliminate ground-launched cruise missiles.

Speaking of Russia's "regional challenges," Obama said in the interview: "We have to make sure that they don't escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy."

Obama described U.S. tensions with China as "manageable."

China is engaged in territorial disputes with its neighbors in the oil-rich South China Sea, and frequently skirmishes with the West over intellectual property issues.

"One thing I will say about China, though, is you also have to be pretty firm with them, because they will push as hard as they can until they meet resistance," Obama told the Economist.

"They're not sentimental, and they are not interested in abstractions. And so simple appeals to international norms are insufficient," he said.

Obama said he believes trade tensions will ease when China shifts "from simply being the low-cost manufacturer of the world" and its companies begin making higher-value items that need intellectual property protections.

"There have to be mechanisms both to be tough with them when we think that they're breaching international norms, but also to show them the potential benefits over the long term," he said.

CEOs should quit complaining 

Obama also said corporate America has done well under his economic policies, telling the Economist magazine that chief executive officers should stop complaining about regulations and show greater social responsibility.

"If you look at what's happened over the last four or five years, the folks who don't have a right to complain are the folks at the top," Obama said in an interview conducted last week and posted on the magazine's website late on Saturday.

Republicans have sought to portray Obama as anti-business, and businesses have complained that Obama's signature healthcare law and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms have raised costs.

Business groups are lobbying against his new plan to curb climate-changing carbon emissions from power plants.

"I would take the complaints of the corporate community with a grain of salt," Obama said, arguing that his policies have been friendly to business. "They always complain about regulation. That's their job."

Obama has increasingly promoted populist economic measures such as raising the minimum wage to motivate Democratic voters ahead of critical November congressional elections, in which his Democrats face the prospect of losing control of the Senate.

"Oftentimes, you'll hear some hedge-fund manager say, 'Oh, he's just trying to stir class resentment'. No. Feel free to keep your house in the Hamptons and your corporate jet, etcetera. I'm not concerned about how you're living," Obama said.

"I am concerned about making sure that we have a system in which the ordinary person who is working hard and is being responsible can get ahead," he said.

Obama had a frosty relationship with business in his first term, famously telling an interviewer: "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street."

The White House had toned down that rhetoric, and in Obama's second term has rallied corporate America for support to advance executive actions to hire the long-term unemployed, get better technology in schools and provide more opportunities for young African-American men.

Obama slammed Republicans for what he termed a thread of "anti-globalization" that has stalled reauthorization of funding for the Export-Import Bank, which he said would hurt U.S. businesses trying to finance overseas trade.

But in the interview, Obama chided business for a lack of social responsibility, citing a "general view" that "the only responsibility that a corporate CEO has is to his shareholders."

"There's a huge gap between the professed values and visions of corporate CEOs and how their lobbyists operate in Washington," he said.

"My challenge to them consistently is, 'Is your lobbyist working as hard on those issues as he or she is on preserving that tax break that you've got?' And if the answer is no, then you don't care about it as much as you say."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Ağustos 2014, 10:54

Muhammed Öylek

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