Obama to visit four Asian countries

Updated: 2014-02-13 10:52

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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US President Barack Obama will make a four-nation tour to Asia in April as part of his commitment to increasing US diplomatic, economic and security engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, the White House said on Wednesday.

The trip will take him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

Obama's trip to Asia was first announced by National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Nov 20 when she spoke at Georgetown University about US policies in the Asia Pacific region, in particular the US rebalancing strategy begun in 2009.

Obama's commitment to the policy has been called into questions after he canceled his trip to Asia, including to the Philippines and Malaysia, in October due to the partial shutdown of the federal government. The US has since dispatched Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to the region.

Kerry started his fifth trip to Asia on Wednesday. He will go to South Korea, China, Indonesia and Abu Dhabi.

The US rebalance strategy has been criticized in previous years for overemphasizing its military component. The US has since tried to stress more its economic and trade aspects.

However, talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a high-level free trade agreement, did not conclude by the end of last year, as Obama had hoped earlier. Instead, negotiations could take much longer than expected and complicated US domestic politics could mean that ratification might be hard to come by.

At a recent seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, 37 percent of the audience said the US' rebalancing strategy was well designed but poorly implemented, while 39 percent said it was poorly designed.

While Obama won't visit China in April, he is likely to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping when both attend the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague of the Netherlands in March.

Obama is also likely to pay an official visit to China in autumn when he attends the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

South Korea was believed to be added to Obama's travel list. "Visiting key treaty allies Tokyo and Manila, while skipping another key ally, South Korea, on Obama's first trip to Asia of his second term would be an embarrassment for South Korea President Park Geun-hye, particularly given how prickly relations are between Tokyo and Seoul," said a Jan 31 Washington Post op-ed coauthored by former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and Victor Cha and Michael Green of CSIS.

The relationship between Japan and South Korea, two key US allies in the region, has suffered due to historical issues and territorial disputes. Like the Chinese, South Koreans are angry over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's views of history, such as his visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals, and the whitewash of atrocities regarding "comfort women" enslaved by the Japanese army in WWII.

Just days ago, South Koreans succeeded in having the Virginia State Assembly approve a bill requiring public school textbooks in the state refer to the Sea of Japan also as the East Sea, the name the South Korean government insists be used.

The US has found it hard to ease the disputes between its two allies. Its expression of disappointment over Abe's visit to the shrine does not seem likely to stop the right-wing Japanese politician from taking more actions to anger its neighbors, which were victims of Japanese militarism during WWII.

The US has also been caught by the territorial disputes between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Tensions have risen since the Japanese government nationalized the islands in late 2012.

The US has tried to assure its ally Japan while at the same time building a constructive relationship with rising power China. China and the US have an ever intertwined economic and trade relationship and have cooperated on key issues, such as climate change and the nuclear issues in Iran and North Korea.


(China Daily USA 02/13/2014 page1)