Wednesday, January 26, 2011

World Reactions to SOTU


The Independent

Obama speech calls for unity to build economy

"President Barack Obama urged America last night to move beyond political point-scoring and focus all its energies instead on rising to what he called the country's "Sputnik moment" to create a new world-beating economy built on innovation and new industries.

"Choosing to spend the large part of his State of the Union address last night on the economy rather than national security or foreign affairs, Mr Obama sketched a future detached from the experience of the last several years which have been ones of partisan head-butting and relentlessly high unemployment.

"It was an upbeat tone that critics will see as hollow. With the Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives in the wake of last November's midterm elections, Mr Obama has no choice but to seek bipartisan co-operation. New political tempests are on the way meanwhile as Republicans demand steep cuts in federal spending and liberals on the left accuse him of being too eager to comprises."


"The Republican leadership on Capitol Hill attempted to take the spotlight off the President, earlier in the day unveiling plans to slash domestic spending in the US by roughly 22 per cent. The cuts will be at the heart of budget proposals that will be tabled by the party in the middle of next month.

"The clashing rhetoric before and after the President's speech stood in jarring contrast to the atmosphere that Mr Obama sought to summon of political civility and bipartisanship, tapping into a national mood that has sprung in part from the attempted assassination two weeks ago of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Relatives of the six victims of the shooting were invited to the public gallery last night.

"In a break with tradition, the Obama address was to be followed last night not by one Republican response but two. The official riposte was to be delivered by the new budget committee chairman, Representative Paul Ryan, while Michele Bachmann, the conservative congresswoman and Tea Party standard bearer, was to deliver an alternative reply. Some saw in this a developing schism in Republican ranks.

"The Republican goal of returning spending to 2008 levels with a one-year saving of about $60bn is a personal rebuke to Mr Obama – that was the last year he was not in office."

read the full article:

The Economist

Live-blogging the state-of-the-union address

"IT SEEMS like only yesterday that Barack Obama was licking his wounds after a mid-term election in which his party was thoroughly "shellacked". But a successful lame-duck session and Mr Obama's deft handling of a tragedy in Tucson have restored some of the lustre to his presidency. Improbably, when the president addresses a joint session of Congress tonight, he will do so from a position of increasing strength. Polls show Americans are more optimistic than at any other time in his presidency, and his personal poll numbers have risen apace.

"But state-of-the-union speeches are rarely political game-changers, and this one is more likely to be remembered as the opening thrust in a battle with Republicans over the federal budget and economic policy. We already know that Mr Obama will propose a partial spending freeze, but Republicans want deeper cuts, and a government shut-down is not out of the question. Others may see Mr Obama's speech as the first of the presidential campaign season. There will certainly be no shortage of critiques from ambitious Republicans. For now, though, the critiques of your ambitious bloggers must suffice. So let's sit back and see what the president has to say."

Read the (very entertaining) comments during the live blog:


The Syndney Morning Herald

Obama outlines plans to rebuff China
January 27, 2011

article printed in its entirety

THE world witnessed an extraordinary moment yesterday when a US President felt compelled to remind his country that America's economy was still the world's biggest.

"Remember," Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address, "for all the hits we've taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world."

It is by far the largest. The US economy produced $US15.1 trillion worth of goods and services last year, about 230 per cent the size of China's $US6.4 trillion.
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Yet the country did need reminding. A Pew poll this month found almost half of Americans - 47 per cent - named China as the world's leading economic power. Only 31 per cent named their own country.

The annual ranking of the world's most powerful people by the American business magazine Forbes listed China's President, Hu Jintao, as No. 1 last year. Obama was ranked second, the reverse of a year earlier.

To use market parlance, the US is trading at a big discount to its face value. A key reason is that it has built up the world's biggest debts while China has accumulated the biggest assets.

The address was essentially a plan for an American response to China's challenge.

He named China but also India as America's economic competitors: "Just recently, China became home to the world's largest private solar research facility, and the world's fastest computer."

And when he invoked the historical threat from the Soviet Union by declaring "this is our generation's Sputnik moment", he was, in effect, proposing something akin to a national, economic, Cold War effort.

Not a destructive war of trade sanctions and punitive measures but a positive response of American competitive revival.

He signalled a budget with big boosts to investment in "biomedical research, information technology and especially clean-energy technology".

The US, he said, had to "out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world".

Second, Obama planned to "make America the best place on earth to do business" by cutting the corporate tax rate - something that has not happened in a quarter of a century.

Third was to promise to cut federal spending: "The final step - a critical step - in winning the future is to make sure we aren't buried under a mountain of debt."

The President's rivals, the Republicans who now control the House of Representatives, will be interested in cutting spending and corporate taxes but will fight his investment plan.

Obama acknowledged that "it will be harder because we will argue about everything". But he welcomed the argument as a part of the democratic way.

The man who launched China's thrusting modernisation, the late Deng Xiaoping, thought this a handicap: "Our efficiency is higher; we carry things out as soon as we have made up our mind," he said in 1987.

But then again, Deng also said that "the Americans cannot compete with the Soviet Union".


The New Yorker
Letter from China

printed in its entirety

China’s View of the State of the Union
Posted by Evan Osnos

In the State of the Union address, President Obama staked out a new rationale for reviving America’s industrious creativity: where he once argued that renewed innovation would combat recession, he has now framed the endeavor as an existential necessity in the face of urgent competition from abroad. We can call it the Clash of Innovations.

Obama made four explicit references to China—the most of any S.O.T.U. that I can recall—but he also made several other, more subtle, nods to China that are no less important in understanding where the real challenge does and does not lie. First, the explicit references: They served a keep-up-with-the-Joneses function, reminding Americans that China is now “home to the world’s largest private solar research facility and the world’s fastest computer.” Picking up on a theme that has become the mantra of American visitors to Beijing and Shanghai, he went on: “China is building faster trains and newer airports.” All of those are true statements, and, for good measure, he might have added that China doubled its wind-power capacity in 2006 and then doubled it again the next year, and the year after. Or that China had effectively no solar industry in 2003, and, five years later, it was manufacturing more solar cells than any other country.

In declaring this “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he embraced a phrase that has moved steadily through the food chain of American discourse, from the woolly corners of think-tank analyses to Thomas Friedman’s exhortations, and now to the main stage of policy rhetoric. To understand how China has been able to make up so much ground so fast, it’s useful to know that, as I wrote last year, China had its own Sputnik moment—but it wasn’t recent. As far as I can tell, it was twenty-one years ago: March, 1986, when top Chinese scientists realized that decades of relentless focus on defense spending had crippled the country’s civilian scientific establishment. As a result, the government began pumping billions of dollars into labs and universities and experimental enterprises, on projects ranging from cloning to underwater robots. (In 2001, Chinese officials abruptly expanded one program in particular—energy technology—which helps explain why clean energy has gotten a head start in China.)

While those comparisons are sobering, there is another side of the Chinese innovation picture that is less imposing. As news broke today in China of Obama’s comparisons, there were was a bit of crowing from Chinese nationalists, but the more widespread reaction was simply disbelief. “China is still by no means a rival of America’s,” wrote a commenter at “I don’t see areas that should make us proud,” wrote another. Even at the reliably nationalistic Huanqiu site, commenters took note of Obama’s acknowledgement of American weakness: “What a contrast with China. Although the U.S. is strong, it is still looking for shortcomings,” one person wrote. Some of this just reflects a self-image that lags behind the pace of change in China, but it also speaks to a deep and credible Chinese concern that its education system and intellectual environment do not promote the kind of radical thinking that is needed for breakthrough innovation. Obama did not name China when he said, “Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ” Likewise, he didn’t need to single out Beijing when he cited “some countries” in which “if the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.”

The connection that he did not make explicit is that governments that define what appears in the newspaper, or declare which homes get bulldozed without due process, struggle to go from producing solar panels that were invented abroad to imagining what the next generation of solar panels will look like in the first place. Three-quarters of Chinese companies conduct no research and development at all. In his new book, “Advantage,” Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations makes a compelling case for the American edge in the “software” of innovation—the “politics, social relations, and institutions that move ideas from the lab to the marketplace.” He has a point, and it is by no means a reason to dismiss the President’s call to intellectual arms. China has awoken to the challenge of reviving its capacity for deep innovation, but that is a harder skill to acquire than simply replicating other ideas efficiently. The challenge for America is not to become more like China, but to become more like itself when it was at its best.

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