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Obama Trip Focuses On U.S. Ties, Interests In East Asia

Published on 22 April 2014

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by Merle David Kellerhals Jr.


Washington, D.C.

President Obama is pursuing a strategy of rebalancing U.S. economic, diplomatic and security interests toward the Asia-Pacific region, given its stature as the world’s largest emerging region, National Security Advisor Susan Rice says.

The rebalancing of U.S. policy objectives comes into sharp focus as the president prepares for a four-nation, eight-day tour, Rice said. The president first announced his goal of rebalancing U.S. interests across Asia and the Pacific in 2011.

“The countries that we’re visiting — Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines — intersect with our leading priorities, and these are modernizing our alliances, supporting democratic development, advancing [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] and commercial ties, investing in regional institutions like ASEAN, and deepening cultural and people-to-people exchanges,” Rice said at an April 18 White House briefing.

It is the president’s fifth trip to East Asia and permits him to visit Malaysia and the Philippines, which he was not able to do during the U.S. government budget crisis in the fall of 2013, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said at the briefing with Rice. Obama is traveling to Tokyo; Seoul, Republic of Korea; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Manila, the Philippines, April 22–29.

Rice said that unlike many of the president’s trips abroad, there are no large summits involved in this one, which permits him to focus “on energizing our bilateral relationships and advancing the different elements of our Asia strategy.”

“At a time of ongoing regional tensions, particularly with regard to North Korea and territorial disputes, the trip offers a chance for the United States to affirm our commitment to a rules-based order in the region,” Rice said.

Obama will first stop briefly in Oso, Washington, where mudslides killed dozens of people.

The president begins his trip April 23 in Tokyo with a private dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Rhodes told journalists. The next morning the president will have an official arrival ceremony at the imperial palace, which opens his state visit to Japan. He will then hold a series of meetings with Abe and other Japanese officials.

The president is scheduled to participate in a Miraikan science and youth event, which involves a tour of an exposition. Rhodes noted that innovation is a major strength of the U.S.-Japan relationship and this is intended to lift up some of that science and technological cooperation and innovation.

While in Japan the president will visit the Meiji shrine and attend a roundtable meeting with business leaders, which will provide an opportunity to promote the SelectUSA initiative. Rhodes said the president will also attend a state dinner with Emperor Akihito.

The president travels next to Seoul, where he will visit the national war memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony and then make a cultural stop at the Gyeonbok Palace. Rhodes said the president will meet with Korean President Park Geun-hye followed later by meetings with business leaders to discuss the U.S.–South Korea economic relationship and a discussion on the implementation of KORUS, the free-trade agreement.

While in South Korea, Obama will meet with the Combined Forces Command and is expected to give remarks at the Yongsan Garrison to an audience of U.S. military members.

Rhodes noted that the visits to Japan and South Korea follow on the trilateral meetings the three leaders held on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit March 24–25 in The Hague, Netherlands. “We’ve been both investing in these alliances but also the trilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia,” Rhodes added.

President Obama’s visit to Kuala Lumpur is the first by a U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s, Rhodes said. Obama will attend a royal audience and a state dinner on April 26.

While in Kuala Lumpur, the president will visit the National Mosque before his planned meetings with Prime Minister Najib Razak, Rhodes said. They both will head to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre, he said.

Later, the president will attend a town hall meeting at Malaya University with young leaders from across Southeast Asia, including young people from all 10 of the ASEAN countries, Rhodes said. Obama will give a speech but also engage with the young people.

Rhodes said this speech and town hall meeting will be the launch of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which is similar to the young leaders’ initiative the United States has with Africa. It is designed to build relationships across Southeast Asia in coordination with a broader U.S. strategy of engaging the ASEAN nations, he said.

In Manila, Obama will hold a series of meetings with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and later attend a state dinner. While in Manila, Obama will see a new electronic vehicle that is being supported by technology made in the United States, Rhodes said.

President Obama will go to Fort Bonifacio, “where he will give remarks to an audience that will include U.S. and Filipino service members and veterans to underscore our deep security cooperation over the years, but also our security cooperation in the current environment in the Asia-Pacific as we seek to build out and advance the relationship between our militaries,” Rhodes said.



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Posted 2014-04-22 09:25:00