Barack Obama compliments Chinese President Xi Jinping during $895 speaking tour talk
Former US President Barack Obama complimented Chinese President Xi Jinping for his “forceful and confident” demeanour as he said the US-China relationship was “significantly strained” during the first of his Australian talk series in Sydney on Tuesday night.
The sold out audience was kept waiting for more than 20 minutes for the event to start, after it was delayed because “massive” queues were still trying to get into the International Convention Centre at the 7.45pm local start time.
Around 500 people were also tuned into the talk online, with tickets to buy a link to the stream selling for around $400.
Mr Obama said China began to change “after I left office”, with the country beginning to crack down on liberties inside its borders after President Xi sensed that the next US leader – Donald Trump – would be more lenient.
“With my successor coming in, I think he saw an opportunity because the US president didn’t seem to care that much about a rules-based international system,” Mr Obama said.
“And so as a consequence, I think China’s attitude as well, we can take advantage of what appears to be a vacuum internationally on a lot of these issues.”
He said that the relationship between the US and China is “significantly strained” and that tensions aren’t ”going to go away anytime soon”.
“Nor should they, because I think there are some fundamental differences in terms of how we operate when you look at the South China Sea,” he told the crowd.
“The fact of the matter is, is that if China starts claiming what had previously been international waters that is going to make life difficult for its neighbours, and for everyone, long term, I don‘t even think it’s going to be good for China.”
Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon offered a welcome to country, before Mr Obama and Ms Bishop walked onto the stage to loud applause.
Mr Obama received a standing ovation from the crowd when he took to the stage to the sounds of Stevie Wonder.
“Sydney is fantastic, we have had such a wonderful time here, it’s one of the world’s great cities,” he opened his talk with.
He then spoke about his earliest memories of Australia, visiting Sydney when he was just eight years old.
“I was travelling from Indonesia where my mother was living at the time, to my grandparents in Hawaii and I was travelling unaccompanied,” he said.
“We had to stop for a day for the connecting flight and Qantas stewardess took very good care of me.”
He said that the stewardess provided him with Coca-Cola while he read comic books.
“I had a big crush on her,” he said.
“I felt very sophisticated, very worldly, travelling on my own and so that‘s my first association with Sydney.
“And it just keeps getting better every time I come back.”
The 44th president has caused a stir since his arrival on Monday, shutting down parts of Sydney as his large motorcade with a helicopter overhead made its way around the city.
Those who wish to hear Mr Obama speak had to dig deep into their pockets for a ticket, with a standard ticket coming in at just under $200.
The event’s “platinum package”, which comes in at a whopping $895 and features a welcome cocktail at a one-hour drinks function, a commemorative lanyard and a signed copy of Mr Obama’s book, has now sold out.
With around 9000 people to attend the Sydney ‘Evening With President Obama’ and 10,500 to see him in Melbourne, the former president could be up for a payday upwards of $1 million.
The Growth Faculty, which organised the tour, said on its website Mr Obama and Ms Bishop, Australia’s former foreign minister, will discuss “strength in leadership” and “explore techniques for navigating an unpredictable future”.
“President Barack Obama’s path to success is unlike any other. As a global leader, pioneer and 44th president of the United States, his journey is one of resilience, perseverance and triumph, the result of exceptional determination and true tenacity,” the website read.
“In times of great challenge and change, President Obama’s leadership ushered in a stronger economy, a more equal society, a nation more secure at home and more respected around the world.
“Attendees will hear President Obama discuss strength in leadership and explore techniques for navigating an unpredictable future.”
Mr Obama was taken on a whirlwind tour of Sydney on Monday, meeting with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the morning before joining wife Michelle for lunch at Bathers Pavilion in Balmoral, a tour of the Opera House and dinner at Grana in Circular Quay.
“Honoured to welcome President Barack Obama to Sydney,” Mr Albanese said on Twitter.
The pair posed for photographs, grinning under umbrellas in front of a drizzly Sydney Harbour.