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Secretary of State John Kerry (left) greets the US president on his arrival for the State of the Union speech. Charles Dharapak / Agence France-Presse
US President Barack Obama called for support from a divided Congress on Tuesday for his ambitious plan to revive the economy, and for a long list of other priorities such as education, gun control, immigration reform, climate change and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
In his first State of the Union address of his second term, Obama described his plan as re-igniting "the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising thriving middle class".
"It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country," he said. "The idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.
"It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours."
Unlike last year's speech, in which Obama mentioned China five times - criticizing China's trade practices as unfair with reference to its rising manufacturing costs - this time Obama mentioned China only twice.
Obama first praised US companies for bringing jobs back to the US. "After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again," he said.
While Apple has always been regarded as an example of US innovation, the company has also been attacked for outsourcing jobs to China.
But Apple CEO Tim Cook, who sat close to first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday night, has pinned high hopes on China.
"When I look at what Apple has done in China, I think it's hard for anyone to evaluate and say it's not impressive," he said on Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco. "The company has gone from a few hundred million in revenue in one year to $3 billion in the next to $13 billion the next. We're adding over $10 billion every year."
Obama then used China as an example to garner support for his renewable energy plan. "As long as countries like China keep on going all in on clean energy, so must we," he said.
Obama urged the Congress "to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change".
"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," he said."I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
Obama took the opportunity to appeal for bipartisanship and called on members of Congress to put the nation's interest ahead of their party's.
With his popularity now above 50 percent, Obama is still challenged by a slowing economy and a high unemployment rate. He has been fighting hard against the Republicans on many fronts, such as the federal debt ceiling, a series of automatic spending cuts (known as "sequester" and scheduled to take effect in March) and a possible government shutdown.
Obama called the sequester a "really bad idea" and said the US cannot cut to prosperity. He talked about his plans to avoid the sequester with a more balanced approach to targeted cuts and spending, and requiring the wealthy "to pay their fair share", one of the most controversial issues he has with Republicans.
"He needs to understand that the American people will not accept attempts to replace deficit reduction both parties have already agreed to with tax hikes - tax hikes that we all know Democrats would use to finance even more spending," Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky said on Tuesday.
McConnell said if the president tries to do that, he shouldn't expect anyone else to go along with it.
Obama also said he will bring home within a year about half of the 66,000 US troops now in Afghanistan. That would shrink the number of "boots on the ground" to about the size of the force he inherited when he entered the White House.
"The organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self," he said. "Different al-Qaida affiliates and extremist groups have emerged - from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don't need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations."
While Obama hopes to use his fourth State of the Union address to garner support among the Americans to put pressure on the Republicans, a Gallup report released on Tuesday finds that his approval rating changed little after each of his first three speeches.
That is consistent with the generally minimal impact Gallup has measured for other recent presidents, according to the report.
(China Daily 02/14/2013 page4)