By JENNIFER LOVEN
TOKYO — President Barack Obama said Saturday that he welcomes a robust China on the world scene, but he cautioned that all nations must respect human rights, including religious freedoms. In a speech to prominent Japanese, Obama called himself “America’s first Pacific president” and urged greater cooperation between the United States and Japan and other Asian countries.
He played down some Westerners’ fears of an ascending China, especially in economic affairs.
“We welcome China’s efforts to play a greater role on the world stage, a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility,” Obama said.
“The United States does not seek to contain China,” he said. “On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.”
But Obama diplomatically reminded China and other non-democratic nations in Asia that the United States wants them to allow more freedoms to their citizens.
“Supporting human rights provides lasting security that cannot be purchased in any other way,” he said. “That is the story that can be seen in Japan’s democracy, just as it can be seen in America’s.”
Obama said all people want to speak their minds, choose their leaders, access information and worship as they please.
He did not mention particular sore spots such as Tibet, a region of China where authorities have suppressed religious freedom and nation aspirations. He did, however, criticize Burma for suppressing human rights and North Korea for pursuing nuclear weapons.
In a weeklong visit to Asia, Obama is emphasizing cooperation, warning North Korea that there will be tough, unified action by the U.S. and its Asian partners if the Koreans fail to abandon their nuclear weapons programs.