HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — President Obama urged young leaders in Vietnam to focus on the threat of climate change, as he concluded his historic three-day trip to the Southeast Asian country Wednesday.
“Economic development and the well-being and the health of your people and everyone around the world is going to depend on how we deal with some of these environmental issues,” said Obama during a town hall meeting here with hundreds of young Vietnamese.
He said Vietnam will be one of the countries most affected by warming temperatures and rising seas.
"That could have a huge impact on Vietnam's ability to feed its people, on fishermen, on farmers, and it could be a really big problem if we don't do something about it, so it's going to be up to you to start," said Obama.
The question-and-answer session was the final event of the president’s trip to Vietnam, a visit that included the lifting of a decades-old arms embargo against the country and an agreement to allow Peace Corps to operate in Vietnam for the first time. Obama also used the trip to scold Vietnam on its human rights record.
“Sometimes art is dangerous, and that’s why governments sometimes get nervous about art. But one of the things that I truly believe is that if you try to suppress the arts then I think you’re suppressing the deepest dreams and aspirations of the people,” he said Wednesday after hearing a young female Vietnamese rapper named Suboi perform a verse for him. The president offered to accompany her and briefly started beatboxing, drawing laughs.
"Imagine if at the time that rap was starting off that the government had said ‘no because some of the things you say are offensive or some of the lyrics are rude or you’re cursing too much,’” Obama said in reply to a question from Suboi, 26.
“That connection that we’ve seen now in hip-hop culture around the world wouldn’t exist. So you’ve got to let people express themselves. That’s part of what a modern 21st-century culture is all about,” Obama said.
At the lively event, some young audience members tried to get the president’s attention by waving American flags as he scanned the room for questioners. One young woman wore a traditional Vietnamese conical hat, called a nón lá, with “Thank You Obama” written on it.
Obama praised the young members of his audience and poked fun at his younger self.
“When I was your age, I was not as well-organized and well-educated and sophisticated as all of you. When I was young, I fooled around a lot. I didn’t always take my studies very seriously. I was more interested in basketball and girls,” he said.
One university student asked Obama where he thought he would be in five years.
“I suspect that I’m going to be doing the kind of work I’ve been doing all my life,” he said. “I’ll be doing organizing work and involved in public policy issues. I just won’t be doing it in a formal way through elected office. I’ll be like a community organizer — except a little more famous than I used to be.”
After the meeting Obama left for Japan, where he will attend the Group of Summit and become the first president to visit Hiroshima, seven decades after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb there that ushered in the nuclear age and ended World War II. He planned to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after arriving late Wednesday.