US President Barack Obama charmed his Tokyo audience on Saturday with references to green tea ice cream, Japanese traditional hospitality and, of course, the small town that bears his name.
"I could not come here without sending my greetings and my gratitude to the citizens of Obama, Japan," said the president to the delight of the western Japan town that has turned its accidental fame into a cottage industry.
Obama in his speech Saturday recalled a childhood visit to Kamakura, a temple-studded town near Tokyo, where he "looked up at that centuries-old symbol of peace and tranquility, the great bronze Amida Buddha."
Then he quipped: "As a child, I was more focused on the matcha (green tea) ice cream. But I have never forgotten the warmth and hospitality that the Japanese people showed a young American far from home," AFP reports.
Obama said the U.S. has no wish to "contain" China, a strategy that grew out of the Cold War era when the American government strove to block the spread of communism.
"I know there are many who question how the United States perceives China's emergence," he said. "But, as I have said, in an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another. Cultivating spheres of cooperation -- not competing spheres of influence -- will lead to progress in the Asia Pacific."
Obama's half-hour speech at a concert hall was warmly received by an audience of about 1,500 Japanese. It was interrupted by applause more than a dozen times, and he got a standing ovation at the end. Weaving in bits of his biography, Obama said his family's roots in Asia give him a perspective unique among U.S. presidents, Los Angeles Times reports.
Economic recovery was another key issue tackled by Mr Obama during his speech, a timely subject following the release on Friday of new figures showing America's trade deficit grew in September by 18.2 per cent to US$36.5 billion.
With the figures adding a sense of urgency to US efforts seeking greater export opportunities in Asia, he said: "Now that we are on the brink of economic recovery, we must also ensure that it can be sustained," he said. "We simply cannot return to the same cycles of boom and bust that led us into a global recession. We cannot follow the same policies that led to such imbalanced growth."
Following his speech, Mr Obama had lunch with the Emperor and Empress before flying to Singapore to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co- operation forum, according to Telegraph.co.uk.
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