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Look ma, all hands: Obama’s touchy-feely Asia tour

Talk of PDA… Our own Prince Charming-politician Shashi Tharoor may have won some well-deserved acclaim from his wife Sunanda Pushkar recently for his very public display of affection with her, but Tharoor, it appears, has much to learn in the department of hands-on diplomacy from US President Barack Obama.

And it’s not just a matter of how Obama conducts himself with his wife Michelle… The two of them of course make an endearing couple who, even in middle age and given the rigours of living a goldfish bowl life in the public glare, uninhibitedly give expression to their manifest affection for one another.

But look what Obama gets up to when Michelle’s not within arm’s reach…

Obama’s body language during his ongoing tour of Asia, in which he schmoozed with Thailand’s attractive Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and planted a presidential peck on Myanmar’s iconic democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, has had commentators remarking on his touchy-feely tour of Asia.

Obama kisses Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after they spoke to press at her residence on Monday. AP

The racy Daily Mail, in particular, was completely besotted with Obama’s conduct of hands-on diplomacy in Thailand. “The charmer-in-chief: Obama gets flirty as he schmoozes with Thai prime minister” screamed the headline.

The narrative expanded on that same theme in breathless detail. President Obama, it said, “is practicing a new brand of foreign relations, appearing to flirt with Thailand’s attractive prime minister on his first stop of his three-day tour of Southeast Asia.”

Obama and Yingluck Shinawatra, it said, “could be seen laughing together and exchanging playful glances through a state dinner at the Government House in Bangkok on Sunday.”

And just to embellish that point, the newspaper published stacks of photographs of Obama working his charm on Yingluck Shinawatra, who too appears to respond with coquettish glee, in the manner of a teenager out on a first date. (Catch the story and the telling pictures here.)

Nor was Yingluck Shinawatra the only recipient of Obama’s affection. On the next leg of his tour, which took him to Myanmar, Obama swept up Suu Kyi in a public embrace that may be said to have gone well beyond the dictates of protocol — and even planted a presidential peck on her cheek.

The sight of Suu Kyi leaning into Obama’s embrace and offering him her cheek makes for an endearing image that marks a rare moment in the conduct of international diplomacy.

Of course, not all US Presidents have had the same Obama-esque charming effect when they have reached out to international leaders. George W Bush famously had German Chancellor recoiling in shock when he sneaked up on her and administered her an impromptu shoulder massage during a Group of 8 summit meeting in Russia. (Watch the video here.) But you didn't need Merkel to tell you that 'Dubya' doesn't have Obama's flair for hands-on diplomacy...

Then again, Merkel wasn’t immune to male charm in its entirety: in particular, her chummy camaraderie with former French President Nicholas Sarkozy caused photographers to work overtime. At international summits that were convened to discuss the eurozone’s economic troubles, shutterbugs never failed to capture the warm chemistry between them. Economic tempests may have raged around them, but ‘Merkozy’ as they came to be called, could still find time for stolen glances and hugs and careless whispers. In some of them, Sarkozy has a lost puppy look about him as he gazes adoringly into Merkel’s eyes. Not for nothing was it called the ‘photo romance in the time of euro-cholera’…