WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama will make a trip to Asia, including Japan and South Korea, in late April in a bid to promote his administration’s commitment to the region, the White House said Wednesday.
Obama’s trip to Japan, during which he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was arranged as Japan is seeking to demonstrate close bilateral ties in order to better deal with regional issues such as North Korea and a rising China.
Obama and Abe will discuss how to deepen their security and economic ties, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and “expand our cooperation on a range of diplomatic challenges in Asia and globally,” the White House said.
Details about Obama’s visit to Japan such as the date and whether he will be accommodated as a state guest as proposed by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida have not been decided, a White House official said.
Tokyo and Washington are working on realizing Obama’s visit, which will be the first such in 3½ years, on April 22 and 23, a Japanese government official said.
In South Korea, Obama will meet with President Park Geun-hye and discuss recent developments in North Korea and efforts to promote denuclearization as well as the bilateral free trade pact, the White House said.
Obama will also visit Malaysia to meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and then go to the Philippines to meet with President Benigno Aquino III, it said.
Obama is set to visit Japan, where officials are struggling to minimize the impact of a disagreement over Abe’s contentious visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in December despite objections by the U.S. side, including from Vice President Joe Biden.
The U.S. president pledged in 2011 to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, describing the U.S. mission there as “a top priority.”
But Obama’s determination to follow up on the commitment has come into question as it was bogged down with addressing issues related to chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. government has been critical of Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, which is regarded by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism before and during World War II, saying it only destabilizes East Asia.
Bilateral ties between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea were strained even before the shrine visit due to territorial disputes and differences over the interpretation of war-related history.
Obama has visited Japan twice since he became president in 2009.
He last came to Japan in November 2010 to attend a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama.