RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A week after voters delivered a blow to the president and his party, Mr. Obama's now about as far from Washington as he can get. He's in Beijing this morning, kicking off a long, scheduled trip that will also take him to Myanmar and Australia. And he will have a one-on-one meeting with China's president, Xi Jinping. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Beijing for more. Good morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning to you.
MONTAGNE: Scott, when things aren't going that well at home, presidents often look to foreign policy as an area where they might have some more room to maneuver. Is that what's happening here with President Obama? Or has his international standing suffered as well with these last week's midterms?
HORSLEY: Well, the timing of this trip was dictated by the schedule of these international summits he's attending, and certainly, it's a little awkward. The other leaders around the table know that his party took a drubbing, and there's been some gloating in the Chinese press about that. But there also has to be a little bit of head scratching here because while American voters are clearly unhappy with the state of the U.S. economy, it's doing better than much the rest of the, world and, you know, we had another strong jobs report last Friday. So while a number of Democratic lawmakers are soon going to be out of a job, a lot of the foreign leaders Obama's going to be meeting with this week would happily trade his economy for their own.
MONTAGNE: And how much emphasis then is he going to be putting on the economy during the president's trip?
HORSLEY: Well, it is a major focus. Obama met earlier today with about a dozen foreign leaders who've been trying to negotiate a big trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now as expected, there was no big breakthrough at the talks today, but Obama says negotiators are making good progress.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Agreements like this will benefit our economies and our people, but they also send a strong message that's what's important isn't just whether our economies continue to grow, but how they grow. That's what - that's what best for our people isn't a race to the bottom, but a race to the top.
HORSLEY: Ironically, this is one area where the GOP takeover in the Senate could strengthen the president's hand. Republicans are generally more interested in trade agreements than the Democrats are, and both Mitch McConnell and the president have said this is an area where they think they can find some common ground.
MONTAGNE: And as I've mentioned, Obama will be meeting with China's president. In fact, I think he's spending a good deal of time with him on his state visit this coming Wednesday. The White House calls theirs a complex relationship. How do they mean?
HORSLEY: (Laughter) Well, this is a relationship that's potentially fraught. China often views U.S. moves in Asia as being designed to contain China's own growth and influence. Although the White House insists that's not the case. In fact, Obama has welcomed China's growing non-military involvement in places like Afghanistan and West Africa where China has now stepped up in the battle against Ebola. To be sure though, there are friction points between these countries, human rights in Hong Kong which is something the president will raise, American concerns about cyber espionage. But for all that, the two leaders do have concerns in common, and they're going to be talking, among other things, about their own trade relationship and about climate change.
MONTAGNE: You know, Scott, when the president first came into office, he talked about a Pacific pivot or a pivot to the East. And he has tried to refocus U.S. attention on Asia, but it hasn't been easy considering all the events in the Middle East and elsewhere. What about now? Is that commitment still there?
HORSLEY: Well, the White House insists that long-term, the U.S. must be more involved in this region that's home to so much of the world's population - so much of its potential for economic growth. And the White House also will argue that it doesn't have to be either or. Asian countries, for example, also have a stake in containing Islamic extremism, lest some of the foreign fighters in the Middle East come home to this part of the world. Asia has a stake in seeing that the epidemic in West Africa is contained before it becomes a global pandemic. So in some ways, it's not just a pivot, it's more of a straddle for the president.
MONTAGNE: Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR White House correspondent, Scott Horsley, traveling with the president in Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.