By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

Robert Gates, the US’s mild mannered secretary of defence, isn’t exactly an in-your-face kind of guy. So why did he begin his trip to Beijing, long awaited and sought for by Washington, by emphasising how the US will be spending billions of dollars on weapons that could be used against China? The answer, probably, is because he could.

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By Mure Dickie, Japan bureau chief

Barack Obama’s critics will no doubt see it as a metaphor. During his recent visit to Tokyo, the US president bowed so low to Japan’s Emperor Akihito that some people wondered if he had spotted a Y100 coin on the Imperial Palace’s immaculately swept porch. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Barack Obama made one last final attempt to speak directly to ordinary Chinese people at the end of his three-day visit, giving an interview in Beijing yesterday to Southern Weekend, one of China’s more outspoken newspapers. Read more

By Zach Coleman, FT Asia world news editor

Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, may have looked like he was bulking up ahead of Barack Obama’s first presidential visit to Seoul this week when he sported a sweater under his suit jacket.

In fact, Lee and his cabinet – who joined him adding some layers of protection – were trying to lead by example as they committed the country to cut its carbon emissions in a symbolically under-heated meeting room during a cold snap.

How Seoul will reduce emissions by four per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 has not yet been spelled out. But the track record of other leaders using sartorial gestures to promote energy conservation has been mixed.

Months after becoming US president, Jimmy Carter donned a cardigan to underscore that the energy crisis was the “moral equivalent of war”. Carter hoped to summon public solidarity to conserve energy and reduce oil imports through steps such as reducing wintertime heating and driving more efficent cars.

But in the heyday of the Pontiac TransAm, his plea for sacrifice didn’t resonate with the American public (how would Hummer owners react now?). Oil imports continued to climb and Carter was eventually sent packing by the sunnier optimism of Ronald Reagan. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Have we just watched the launch of the G2? As Barack Obama has said several times this week, there are few big global problems that can be solved without the agreement of the US and China. And talking in terms of a G2 captures some of the shifting balance of global power where a wounded US is seeking to find common cause with a rising China. Read more

By Mure Dickie, FT Tokyo bureau chief

The depth of Barack Obama’s pavement-scraping bow to Japan’s Emperor Akihito last weekend has become a matter of controversy at home drawing individous comparisons with the upright Dick Cheney  (see this Los Angeles Times blog).

So here’s my verdict on the president’s protocol performance.

First off, Obama definitely wins some credit for being so obviously keen to show respect for local feelings. This is an important message to convey given that his administration has been rather brusquely waving aside calls by Japan’s new government for a rethink on a controversial Marine base relocation plan.

Like people everywhere, the Japanese appreciate when visitors abide by the old injunction to “follow village ways when in the village” (the local equivalent of “When in Rome…”). And bowing is very much a part of Japanese etiquette. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to ordinary Chinese on his Asia tour may have fallen a little flat, but there is one trump card he can play to score points with his hosts – the three members of Obama’s Cabinet who can get by in Chinese. Read more

By Christian Oliver, FT South Korea bureau chief

Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper last week speculated on the most important question surrounding the South Korea leg of Barack Obama’s Asia tour: whether the presidential lunch would be accompanied by Korean rice liquor, or a fruity Californian red?

On the eve of Mr Obama’s arrival in Seoul on Wednesay, officials said it would most likely be an American wine. The South Koreans probably intend those bottles of Californian wine to deliver a none-too-subtle message about the importance of a trade agreement between Washington and Seoul, currently held up mainly by resistance from US automakers.

But that bottle – Zinfandel? – could also raise deeper questions about trade deals with South Korea. Read more

By Edward Luce, FT Washington bureau chief, travelling with President Barack Obama in Shanghai

From a distance, global diplomacy can appear more glamourous than it sometimes is. On Monday, in a very rainy and overcast Shanghai, Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he was elsewhere. His first public event of the day was a meeting with Yu Zhengsheng, the city’s Communist party secretary.

After the presidential motorcade sped along Shanghai’s eerily empty streets and seemingly endless urban jungle of skyscrapers, Mr Obama sat down to what might politely be described as a ponderous exchange of pleasantries with Mr Yu.

The US president was not alone. Among the other American officials seated in a line of chairs next to Mr Obama were Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, Jim Jones, the national security advisor, Lawrence Summers, White House senior economic advisor, and Kurt Campbell, the state department’s Asia man.

“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” said Mr Obama. “This is my first visit to Shanghai.”

“Shanghai is a city that witnessed the progress of the diplomatic relations between China and the United States over the past three decades,” Mr Yu shot back. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

If the White House believes President Barack Obama’s charisma can be a foreign policy asset, that theory is about to face its toughest test in China where he arrives on Sunday night, the latest stop in his inaugural Asia tour.

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, China has been immune to the popular love-in that surrounded the Obama election. For sure, young Chinese like the president – they think he is cool and they understand the symbolism of an African-American in the White House. But they have not been caught up in the hero-worship witnessed in, say, parts of Europe. Read more