US President Barack Obama is to use an Asian tour beginning this week to bolster Washington’s alliances in the region at a time of increased geopolitical tension.
Obama is scheduled to visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, and will be under duress to address maritime territorial disputes between US allies and China.
Obama aides on Friday said he would restate the US’ staunch support for its friends, underline its role as a Pacific power and seek to reassure the region that his “rebalancing” to Asia strategy is not running out of steam.
The US president is set to travel to Asia on Tuesday, but is likely to remain preoccupied by simmering foreign policy crises elsewhere, especially in Ukraine and in the Middle East.
“The president’s trip to Asia is an important opportunity to underscore our continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region,” US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said.
During his trip, Obama is to emphasize that Washington wants maritime disputes in the South and East China seas settled peacefully, in accordance with the rule of law, Rice said.
Washington does not take a position on the various territorial claims of regional powers, but has in the past angered Beijing by suggesting that these claims should be solved multilaterally.
China prefers to discuss the maritime rows bilaterally with individual nations, probably because this is a more advantageous format for the Asian giant to wield its significant size and influence.
Obama’s trip will be his first to the region since Beijing declared an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea last year, which the US and other nations have branded as illegitimate.
The US president is to begin his fifth official trip to Asia in a state visit to Japan on Wednesday, when he has a private dinner scheduled with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The next day, after an official ceremony at the Imperial Palace and then formal talks, he is to hold a press conference with Abe.
After several engagements during the day, including a meeting with business leaders, Obama is to attend a state dinner hosted by Japanese Emperor Akihito.
In Seoul, Obama is to hold talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye that focus on North Korea’s belligerence. The US president will also attempt to ease tensions between Seoul and Tokyo stoked by territorial spats and wartime grievances.
Deputy US National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama will also address the US-South Korean Combined Forces Command and be briefed on efforts to meet North Korean “provocations.”
Obama is then to travel to Malaysia before heading to the Philippines on April 28 for talks with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
The US president is to hold a joint press conference with Aquino in Manila, be the guest of honor at a state dinner and lay a wreath at the Philippines’ World War II US cemetery.