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Former US President Barack Obama gestures during the Asia Pacific leadership programme in Kuala Lumpur. -NSTP/Aswadi Alias.
Former US President Barack Obama gestures during the Asia Pacific leadership programme in Kuala Lumpur. -NSTP/Aswadi Alias.

KUALA LUMPUR: Those fighting for change in the Asia Pacific region need to get “bigger and more powerful allies”.

Former United States president Barack Obama said this while responding to a question on how Pacific islanders could get the superpower to negotiate on the controversial move to relocate its naval base from Okinawa to Guam.

“A general rule when dealing with organisations and institutions that are bigger and more powerful than you is to bring attention to the issue so that you get allies.

“I think the average person in the US is not aware of the impact that military base relocations have on these communities. So one of the first jobs to do is to raise awareness,” Obama said at the Asia Pacific leadership programme here yesterday.

The question on the transfer was raised by a local leader of the Northern Mariana Islands, Sheila J. Babauta, on how to bring the US to the negotiation table over such a decision.

Obama said the power of the underdog in society was to mobilise public opinions.

“That happened in the civil rights movement (in the US) where we had television cameras showing people with dogs and firehoses directed at peaceful marchers... that started changing attitudes... the Federal Government started taking steps.”

He also said leaders had to be realistic as to what they planned to achieve.

“You have to make sure that your group has worked out your differences in terms of what you want.

“I suspect that even among islanders, there will be different views, so there should be a basic set of demands and they must be realistic enough so that they are achievable,” he said, adding that some might not oppose the plans due to business interests.

Obama said he was no longer a commander-in-chief, and was out of date in terms of all the processes and procedures taking place.

“What I think is true and this is just not for the US but countries with large military infrastructure... and the military is often not as mindful as it needs to be about its impacts on the surrounding communities. Look at Hawaii, we still have a whole set of issues on the military presence, its training, how it affects the surrounding communities.”

On climate change, Obama said addressing the crisis was going to be a “generational project”.

His sister, Dr Maya Soetoro-Ng, had earlier asked him during a plenary session on effective ways to protect the environment and work towards a more climate-secure future outside the Paris Climate accord.

The US, under Obama’s administration, signed the 2015 Paris Agreement aimed at strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.

Obama, in being optimistic that global warming could be “slowed” if everyone worked together to address the climate crisis, said leaders should continue to push for change.

“Your voice to what is happening right here and now is a moral call to the rest of the world, and figuring out how to tell the stories of what you are seeing and the losses that are already taking place, that is going to be important.”

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