Obama’s Asia tour: Beyond geopolitical fad, it’s need of hour

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Apr 23, 2014 00:54 IST

President Barack Obama starts Tuesday a tour, to re-emphasize his Asia Pacific rebalance, which he was forced to abandon because of the government shutdown last fall.

His first stop is Tokyo, which he has never visited as president, then Seoul, which he has visited four times, Malaysia, which last saw a US president in 1966, and, finally, Philippines.

The president will seek to reassure those countries — US allies really — that his Asia Pacific rebalance, also called the “pivot”, is for real and not just some “geopolitical fad”.

Describing the trip as the latest manifestation of Obama’s firm commitment to his policy of Asia Pacific rebalancing, a White House official said on Monday, “The United States is all in when it comes to the Asia Pacific, and we’re there for the long haul.” “It’s not a geopolitical fad, it’s not a political expediency,” said the official, Evan Medeiros, previewing the president’s tour. There have been concerns that the rebalance has been all rhetoric and no action, not yet at least.

About the rebalance
“It was a welcome policy change, but will they do it?” Yukio Okamoto, a former Japanese government official, said about the rebalance to Reuters recently. “We do not see any actual sign” of its implementation. There has been nervousness about China’s forceful pursuit of its maritime claims, disputed by three of the countries Obama is visiting — Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

While reassuring them — all three are treaty allies — of US support, President Obama will be careful to not get the Chinese too worried and, therefore, feel threatened.Of particular concern will be a security pact he is likely to sign with the Philippines allowing US forces increased access to Philippine bases. The White House knows China will be watching closely. “We were very aware of this question that’s out there in Asia: Is the President’s trip – is it focused on containment of China?” said Medeiros, “And the simple answer is no.”

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