Asked by Ray Chi Gou, a journalist with Chinese Central Television, how he would sum up the United States' relationship with China immediately following the G 20 Summit, President Obama pointed to what could his political Achilles heel – a clumsy way with catchphrases.
"As your American counterparts will tell you, I'm terrible with those little catchphrases and sound bites," said Mr. Obama. "So I haven't come up with anything catchy yet, but if you have any suggestions, let me know."
The response provoked ripples of laughter across the crowd of reporters. Yet, in answering the second part of Gou's two-part question, Mr. Obama turned serious. Asked if local political considerations would trump what was good for the world's other leading economies (seemingly a nod to a rising strain of protectionism across the world), Mr. Obama said that his primary constituency is the American people.
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Photo Essay: President Obama at the G20 Summit. (AP)
"I have a direct responsibility to my constituents to make their lives better," said Mr. Obama. "That's why they put me in there. That accounts for some of the questions here about how concretely does my being here help them find a job, pay for their home, send their kids to college, live what we call the 'American Dream.' And I will be judged by my effectiveness in meeting their needs and concerns."
Calling this an "era of integration and interdependence," however, Mr. Obama added that the globalized nature of the world economy meant that the success or failure of the United States' economy was entwined with those of other countries.
He said that because of this it was incumbent upon him to make the case to the American people that it was important not to turn inward and put into place punitive trade tariffs or barriers. He said it was crucial that the United States to continue to be a player in the global economy, but admitted that some businesses would suffer because of free trade.
"There are individuals who will be harmed by a trade deal," said Mr. Obama. "There are businesses who will go out of business because of free trade. And to the extent that a government is not there to help them reshape their company or retrain for the new jobs... that are being created, over time you're going to get people who see -- who rightly see their personal self-interest in very narrow terms."
Beyond trade, Mr. Obama argued that continued economic investment was particularly important in developing parts of the world, and could even be viewed as a hedge against terrorism.
"If we neglect or abandoned those who are suffering in poverty, then not only are we depriving ourselves of potential opportunities for markets and economic growth, but ultimately that despair may turn to violence that turns on us," said Mr. Obama.
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