REPORTING FROM HONOLULU -- President Obama took a hard stance toward China just hours before his private meeting with the country’s leader, maintaining that China is keeping its currency undervalued in a way that "disadvantages American businesses" and "disadvantages American workers."
Obama, speaking at a forum with business leaders Saturday, suggested that in his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao later in the day he would push for changes in currency policy, a crackdown on intellectual piracy and a fairer system for bidding on Chinese government contracts.
Obama spoke on the first full day of a nine-day trip that takes him to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia. In summit meetings and face-to-face talks with Asian-Pacific leaders, he will try to drive home a message that the U.S. is serious about reengaging in the region after years spent focused on war and terrorism in the Middle East and South Asia.
Part of Obama’s goal is to reassure nervous allies that the U.S. is making a military and economic commitment that will prove a counterweight to China’s rising global power.
"The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay," the president said at the business forum.
In the morning, the U.S. and eight other countries announced progress toward creating a trade partnership that stimulates investment and reduces trade barriers. The members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership said such an agreement would create jobs, reduce poverty and help bind together the economies of each country.
Obama faces growing pressure to force a revaluation of the Chinese currency. Just last month, the Senate approved a bill that would penalize the Chinese and other countries that keep the value of their currencies artificially low. Lawmakers contend that Chinese exports enjoy an unfair trade advantage because China's currency, the yuan, is undervalued.
But the White House has not embraced the measure, which could prompt retaliatory action by the Chinese. The Senate action seems mostly symbolic, given that the Republican-controlled House has shown no appetite for the legislation.
-- Peter Nicholas
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama participates in the APEC CEO Summit in Honolulu on Nov. 12. Credit: Jason Reed / Reuters