Obama's trip not to 'contain' China

Updated: 2014-04-22 11:26

By Zhang Fan in New York and Liu Chang in Washington (China Daily USA)

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US President Barack Obama's Asia tour this week is not to contain China even though China-related topics will be discussed, said an official of the US National Security Council.

"US engagement with Southeast Asia is not at China's expense, but rather as part of a broader strategy in which we can deepen our ties with ASEAN countries, but also maintain very constructive ties with China as well," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said Monday at a press conference in Washington.

Rhodes made his remarks ahead of Obama's six-day visit to Asia that start Tuesday and will include stops in Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

This is Obama's fifth trip to Asia, and his first state visit to Japan and Malaysia. He will attend formal dinners with Emperor Akihito in Japan and President Benigno Aquino in the Philippines.

According to his Asia trip agenda, Obama's discussions with the four leaders will include the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

He is also expected to sign a new military cooperation agreement with the Philippines, which expressed willingness earlier this year to buy another two military ships from the US to improve its naval capability.

Rhodes denied that such a move is to contain China, saying that the US and the Philippines "have a long-standing alliance" dating back to World War II and this type of cooperation is "not at any country's expense; it's certainly not at China's expense".

Obama's trip not to 'contain' China

Obama's trip is the "latest manifestation" of his Asia-Pacific rebalancing policy and will focus on modernizing US alliances in the region that are facing new challenges, according to Evan Medeiros, special assistant to the president and senior director for Asian American Affairs at the National Security Council.

"This is a result of a calculation of our economic and our security interests. It's not a geopolitical fad, it's not a political expediency," Medeiros said at the press conference on Monday.

Although China is not included in Obama's Asia tour, experts think China will be a topic in his meetings.

"This will not be a 'China-centered' trip, but China is very likely to be part of the conversation in every country that Obama visits," said Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

"Any serious discussion of Asia's future that excludes or ignores China makes little sense," said Pollack, "the pre-eminent goal for Obama must be to demonstrate that there is clear content and direction to the US rebalance policy, without the rebalance being viewed as a code word for countering or opposing China."

The Philippines will watch every signal from the US very intensively, according to Joshua Kurlantizick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"President Benigno Aquino will want President Obama to clarify how the US might assist or respond to help the Philippines" facing the disputes in the South China Sea, said Kurlantizick at a media call at the New York-based organization on Monday.

Kurlantizick said he thinks that Beijing will pay very close attention to comments Obama makes during his Asia tour, especially on the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea.

"China will respond to any statement that the President Aquino gets President Obama to make," he said.

Contact the writers at zhangfan1@chinadaily.com.cn and changliu@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily USA 04/22/2014 page1)