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Zakaria: Did Obama get his message across in China?

Fareed Zakaria discusses President Obama's trip to Asia.
Fareed Zakaria discusses President Obama's trip to Asia.
  • President's visit made clear the U.S. interest in Asia, Fareed Zakaria says
  • He says Obama needed to send message China must help solve global issues
  • One year after the Mumbai attacks, Indians have proved resilient, he says
  • Zakaria: Pakistan has mostly failed to respond to India's request for those complicit in attacks
  • Barack Obama
  • Asia
  • Mumbai

Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is an author and foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN on Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m. ET

(CNN) -- President Obama landed in South Korea Wednesday for the last stop on his 10-day trip to Asia. The president made earlier visits to China, Singapore and Japan, in his first Asian journey as president.

In Japan, he made reference to his birth in Hawaii and his childhood spent partly in Indonesia, calling himself "America's first Pacific president." But as the trip winds down, analysts are seeking to answer the question of what Obama accomplished.

Fareed Zakaria, author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" spoke to CNN Tuesday about the president's trip and about a grim anniversary that's about to be marked in Asia. It's been one year since 10 Pakistani gunmen put India's commercial capital, Mumbai, through an ordeal of terror that killed 170 people. [Zakaria is the narrator of a documentary on the Mumbai attacks premiering on HBO on Friday.]

CNN: What are your impressions of the president's trip thus far?

Fareed Zakaria: Obama conveyed a lot just by going there. He sent a signal that this was important to him. Bush had missed a number of APEC summits. Obama wanted to send a message that this was a top priority. There are only so many days in a month. Europeans felt slighted last week that he didn't go to Berlin [for the 20th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall]. That event was purely symbolic. Obama had something substantive to do with the Japanese and Chinese.

CNN: What was he trying to communicate?

Zakaria: Obama is trying to build a long-term relationship with China, which is a good idea. But it's also true that the Chinese need to have a very clear sense from Obama that the United States intends to maintain its presence in Asia, that it's not backing down. There's a mood in Asia that views the United States as a power in retreat. It's difficult to tell whether he got that message across because the meetings were private.

CNN: Some observers said they were disappointed and felt that Obama wasn't able to get his message out forcefully.

Zakaria: I think that's right. It's not entirely clear what the reasons for that were. The message that the president should try to send to the Chinese people is that the United States doesn't want to block China's rise in the world. The message is that with power comes responsibility.

CNN: Responsibility for what?

Zakaria: Responsbility for global stability and order and the solving of global problems. The Chinese need to be more active on the North Korea issue and the issues of Iran, Darfur, terrorism and climate change. This is not an accusation; the Chinese are new at this. They are coming into a position of power. It would be fair to expect that China and other countries not just piggyback on the United States and expect the U.S. to solve all these issues.

On Japan, I think he finessed the trip well. The Japanese are anxious about their connection to the U.S. and [the controversial U.S. military base in] Okinawa. They're very concerned about the rise of China and that pushes them into a closer embrace with the United States. He was able to bridge that gap by assuring them they were still a key American ally, but that we would have to continue to be engaged in China.

CNN: It's been a year now since the terrorist events in Mumbai, India. What's become clear in the aftermath of those attacks?

Zakaria: Two things. One is the maturity of the Indian response internationally. They didn't lash out, they didn't strike Pakistan. They pushed Pakistan to arrest more of the terrorists and provide links so that these people can be rounded up. But they've shown a patient response. I'm also struck by the fact that the Pakistanis have done very little on it.

On the whole, it's been a remarkably slow and passive response to what was surely a pretty straightforward request by India, which was also supported by most members of the international community.

CNN: Does that reinforce the concern about possible complicity in the attacks?

Zakaria: It certainly reinforces the idea that Pakistan is unable or unwilling to take any serious action to shut down these terrorist networks. This is about as clear a line of culpability as you can find. ... It's worth remembering the LET [Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a group India has accused of being implicated in the Mumbai attacks] was founded in some collaboration with Pakistani intelligence.

It really suggests how complicated the situation in South Asia is. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is asking for exactly the same thing as India has, that Pakistan root out terror networks that attack Afghanistan. There's been virtually no progress on that. Pakistan has only moved against those who attack Pakistanis. The ones that attack Afghanis, Indians or westerners are never really rounded up.

CNN: Is frustration building in India on this?

Zakaria: There isn't frustration building for a military strike. If there were another terrorist event, traced back to Pakistan, it would probably be iimpossible for a democratic government in India not to do something. But the Indians recognize that it would be ultimately futile. At the end of the day, it would only produce a Pakistani reaction, a cycle of violence that isn't going to solve the problem.

The other issue is the one that the Indians really did focus on, they've spent a lot of time focusing on how did we let this happen, the bad police work, bad security force work. People resigned or were reassigned. Still, government bureaucracies take a lot of time and effort and energy to overhaul. The Indian state is not known for its competence or alacrity in these kinds of matters.

CNN: What about the psychological scars left by the terrorist attacks?

Zakaria: Indians have tended to be very resilient about these things and move on. You see virtually no impact. Very few people talk about it any more. People have just gone on with their work. Indians have had more experience with this kind of thing ... they have definitely decided to move on.

CNN: Can you compare it to New York's response to the September 11 attacks, which were on a larger scale?

Zakaria: The thing that strikes one is that America had a sense of invulnerability, never having been attacked -- with the only real exception being Pearl Harbor, which is far, far away. The 9/11 attacks shattered a core American sensibility. ... The Indians were much less traumatized because they've dealt with terrorism in the past, maybe not quite like this one, but there have been many attacks in the past. They also understood that getting traumatized and focusing obsessively on it is what the terrorists want you to do.

There is a very strong sense in both countries of wanting to embrace the modern world and not this world of fanaticism, of feeling dismay at being drawn in to this world of terrorism and jihad. The natural instinct of Americans and Indians is to have a thriving economy and engage in the modern world.

CNN: What else have we learned from Mumbai?

Zakaria: The broader significance is that you have to recognize that this could happen anywhere. These were very lightly trained, lightly armed people, with no terrorism background. They trained for three months, they were sent out with Kalashnikovs, grenades and cell phones. A lot of it was the sheer unpredictability of it -- the mayhem, the sense of chaos you can create in a few moments, as the Fort Hood gunman showed, even on a military base.

CNN: Can you defend against these kinds of attacks?

Zakaria: You can stop the major kinds of attacks by chasing the terrorist leaders and limiting their funding, but this is much more small scale. It requires a broader effort to engage with communties who are producing these boys who have clearly so few prospects and so little sense of their own destiny that they can be easily recruited by the jidhadis. You're never going to eliminate all the jihadis. What you might be able to do is to shrink the pool of recruits by creating more opportunities for people in these societies.