Obama: Kaepernick 'cares about some real, legitimate issues'

President Barack Obama, visiting China, said the NFL quarterback who is refusing to stand for the national anthem is the latest in a long line of professional athletes who have exercised their constitutional right to make a statement about social issues.

The president was asked at a news conference Monday about Colin Kaepernick's protest gesture. Obama said he has no doubt that the San Francisco 49ers player is sincere and "cares about some real, legitimate issues."

Kaepernick has been heavily criticized since starting his silent protest. He's said it's not an anti-American gesture but a means to bring attention to racial injustice.

Obama says he hasn't paid close attention to the matter. But he adds approvingly that Kaepernick has generated more national conversation about "issues that need to be talked about."

Sunday night, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem before the Seattle Reign's game against the Chicago Red Stars "in a little nod" to Kaepernick.

The president was in China to plug a 12-nation free trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He said it is "indisputable that it would create a better deal for us than the status quo" but it needs congressional approval.

He also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two couldn't force a breakthrough in negotiations over a cease-fire for Syria, but agreed to keep looking for a path to provide humanitarian relief to besieged civilians.

Shortly after noon ET, Obama arrived in Laos, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the Southeast Asian country.

The president says he hopes to make progress in accounting for missing U.S. servicemen from the Vietnam War. Obama says "we have deep commitments" to account for those lost during the war.

He also expects the U.S. will provide help to Laos in dealing with unexploded munitions that remain in the Laotian countryside from the war.

While in Laos, Obama was expected to meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. However, Duterte warned Obama not to question him about extrajudicial killings in his country, or, as he put it, "son of a bitch, I will swear at you" when they meet. Now, Obama asked his staff to assess whether it would be productive for him to meet Duerte.