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Publish Date: 
Sunday, November 16, 2014
The Hill

President Obama’s trip to the Asia-Pacific, with stops in China and Myanmar, gave him a number of surprising foreign policy achievements.

The U.S. and China had clashed over cyber hacking, democracy protests in Hong Kong, and territorial disputes in the East China Sea ahead of the visit. But Obama’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing turned out much better than expected.
Major achievements on trade, climate change, visas, democracy promotion and regional stability during stops in China and Myanmar could pave the way for stronger ties between the U.S. and Asia.
Here are five areas where the president advanced his foreign policy agenda:

1.) Trade

Obama is on a hot-streak of trade successes with a breakthrough tech deal with China, a trade agreement with India and a deal to improve labor rights in Myanmar.

“Trade has been a key part of his overall economic agenda, and he’s had a high level of personal engagement, very effectively, with his counterparts to work to resolve outstanding trade issues,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman during the trip.

The expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) is expected to eliminate tariffs in 54 countries on 200 new products, including semiconductors, medical devices and other goods. The deal is being hailed as an economic boon for the high-tech industry.

Brian Toohey, CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), called the deal an “enormous development” that will save hundreds of millions in tariffs.

A final agreement could be completed during meetings next month in Geneva. A new ITA would cut tariffs by another $1 trillion and is estimated to support up to 60,000 new U.S. jobs.

The U.S. and India also hammered out the final sticking points on a Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) following months of intensive meetings. The deal will streamline customs rules to move goods more efficiently across borders.

“They're even more significant because they show that Washington and the WTO can actually get things done,” said Edward Gerwin, an Asia trade policy expert, praising the deals.

Labor groups also found a deal to hail. The United States, Japan and Denmark, along with the International Labor Organization (ILO), are joining with Myanmar to promote workers rights in the country.

2.) Climate

The president and his Chinese counterpart surprised climate change watchers on Tuesday, announcing a major breakthrough on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporters said their joint plan to reduce carbon emissions could set the stage for a global climate deal during talks set for next year.

To that end, the two presidents said they would work closely together in the interim to tackle any major hurdles before the climate summit in Paris.

Overall, the two nations will aim to cut carbon emissions and pollution in both countries over the next 15 years.

As part of the agreement, the U.S. vowed to cut its emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Republicans, though, criticized the plan, saying it didn’t guarantee that China would follow through on its commitments.

But while critics pounced, greens, a key Democratic base, hailed the agreement.

3.) Security

The U.S. and China also agreed to develop rules to avoid military confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Under the agreement, the two militaries will notify each other of any major sea or air encounters to avoid the risk of unintended incidents.

The plan is aimed at creating greater transparency in a region where tensions are high between China and U.S. allies, Korea and Japan.

Obama said the U.S. and China had “agreed to continue to deepen military exchanges, mutual trust and cooperation on that basis, and develop a new type of military-to-military relations between the two countries.”


4.) Democracy promotion

Two years ago, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar. During his second visit this week he prodded its military rulers to continue moving toward democracy.

The president also expressed concerns over ethnic violence in the country against the minority Muslim Rohingya in meetings with Nobel laureate and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein.

“Discrimination toward the Rohingya or any other religious minority does not express the kind of country, over the long term, that Burma wants to be,” he said.

But Obama made clear his support for reform and vowed to “continue to apply constructive criticism where they fall backwards.”

5.) Visas

With Chinese travelers poised to become the largest group of visitors to the United States in 2018, Obama announced visa extensions aimed at increasing business and tourist travel between the world’s two biggest economies.

Under the plan, Chinese student and exchange visas will be extended to five years, while business and tourist visas will get a 10-year extension.

Chinese visitors to the United States are expected to increase to 2.2 million this year, rising to 4.3 million by 2018, according to figures from the U.S. Travel Association.

That figure will surge to 7.3 million by 2021 with an expected $85 billion boost for the U.S. economy.

Chinese travelers spent on average more than $7,200 a visit last year, easily leading all other nations.

In 2013, 1.8 million Chinese visitors contributed $21 billion to the economy and supported more than 100,000 American jobs, Obama said.