by Wu Xia
BEIJING, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Southeast Asia signals a step further in the U.S. strategic shift toward Asia and highlights Asia's growing importance to the United States.
During the trip, Obama's first foreign tour after his reelection, the U.S. president will travel to Thailand and Myanmar and also meet with regional leaders at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia.
The diplomatic mission bears the symbolic weight attached to Asia by Obama, who, citing his birthplace of Hawaii and his childhood in Indonesia, has styled himself "America's first Pacific president."
No sitting U.S. president has ever visited Myanmar and Cambodia, or has picked countries solely in Southeast Asia for a foreign tour since the Vietnam War.
Obama's particular interest in Asia is tied to the growing strategic importance of the region. As the most dynamic economic area in the world, Asia accounts for about one third of global economic output and its contribution to global growth exceeds 30 percent.
During the global financial crisis and the ensuing economic recession,the worst in over half a century, Asia also played a pivotal part in placing the world economy back on track.
Obama's Southeast Asia tour indicates a continuity of his strategic "pivot to Asia."
However, the policy shift, which features not only closer diplomatic and economic interaction but also stronger military presence in the region, has raised suspicion and contention among Asian countries.
Moreover, seemingly emboldened by the United States' policy, some countries have taken provocative moves on such sensitive issues as territorial disputes, to the detriment of the region's stability and development.
Being a global power with a vital economic stake in Asia, the United States plays an important role in the region. However, to mitigate the continent's tensions and sustain its development calls for a more constructive role by Washington.
In order to build a more stable and prosperous future, Asia should steer clear of the old path of conflict and confrontation, and embark on a new road of mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
This is an aspiration shared by the Asian people, and the United States should factor it into its policy-making.