THE expansion of security and economic ties will be the highlight of discussions between United States (US) President Barack Obama and President Benigno Aquino 3rd when the former flies to Manila in April this year.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. confirmed that Obama will visit the Philippines in April.
“President Obama will meet with President Aquino to discuss ways to further strengthen the enduring Philippines-US alliance, including the expansion of security, economic and people-to-people ties,” Coloma said.
He added that Obama’s visit will provide a “new momentum to Philippines-US relations and strengthen the partnership of the two nations in many areas.”
Obama’s April trip, reports said, will highlight his “ongoing commitment to increase US diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”
He is said to push negotiations on a vast Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact that would include 12 nations, and is seen by some observers as an attempt to meet the economic challenge of a rising China.
A statement sent by the White House through the US Embassy in Manila said Obama will travel to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in April “as part of his ongoing commitment to increase US diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”
The Philippines will be Obama’s last stop.
Obama was supposed to visit the Philippines in October last year but he cancelled the trip to focus on the US government shutdown—the first in 17 years. He also was not able to attend two Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summits. He sent US Vice President Joe Biden to visit Manila on his behalf, but the visit was also cancelled because of bad weather.
Obama’s first stop in his Asia Pacific tour is Japan where he will meet his counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “to highlight the historic steps the United States and Japan are taking to modernize our 54-year alliance, deepen our economic ties, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and expand our cooperation on a range of diplomatic challenges in Asia and globally.”
Tokyo is one of Washington’s strongest allies in Asia. Because of its pacifist army, the US provides protection to Japan by maintaining military bases there.
After Japan, Obama will visit another ally—South Korea—where he will meet with President Park Geun-Hye to reaffirm the US’ “commitment to a strong alliance, review recent developments in North Korea and our combined efforts to promote denuclearization, and discuss our ongoing implementation” of the Korea-US free trade agreement.
The US military’s presence in South Korea has been the subject of much concern for its neighbor, North Korea. The US has adamantly called on the North to stop its nuclear program.
In Malaysia, Obama will meet with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak “to showcase the substantial progress made in deepening our diplomatic, economic, and defense ties with such an important partner in Southeast Asia.”
Obama’s travel to Asia Pacific region is part of his repivot to Asia policy, which is said to be triggered by China’s political and economic rise as a global superpower.
The Philippines and China are in the midst of a territorial dispute over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), with Manila trying to drag Beijing before a United Nations court to settle the disputes.
The US has been helping the Philippines establish a minimum credible defense posture to better patrol its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which came under attack from China in 2012 when it intruded into the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
It was an open secret that Obama would visit Japan in April, to take up an invitation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in December 2012.
But the decision to add South Korea to the trip came after rising pressure from Seoul and from the Asia policy community in Washington.
Obama’s Asia itinerary also includes one noticeable exception—a stop in China. But he is expected to return to the region later in the year for regional summits in Australia, Beijing and Myanmar.
The White House said in a statement that Obama’s April trip will highlight his “ongoing commitment to increase US diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”
The White House did not give exact dates for the trip, other than saying it would take place in April. Obama is expected to be away for about a week.