White House confirmed Obama will visit Manila in April

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President Barack Obama will visit the Philippines in late April this year to highlight the countries’ economic and security cooperation, as well as the modernization of their defense alliance.

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In a statement sent by the White House through the US Embassy in Manila, it said that Obama will travel to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in late 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 in his Asia Pacific tour. It will also be the fifth Asian treaty ally he will visit during his presidency.

Obama is expected to meet with President Benigno Aquino 3rd to highlight both countries’ economic and security cooperation, including through the modernization of their defense alliance.

There will also be talks on “efforts to expand economic ties and spark economic growth through the Partnership for Growth, and through our deep and enduring people-to-people ties.”

Obama was supposed to visit the Philippines in October last year, but has to cancel at the last minute to focus on the US government shutdown–the first in 17 years. The cancellation also affected his attendance to two Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summits.

Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly stole the spotlight from Obama because of his absence from the summits.

Obama sent US Vice President Joe Biden to visit Manila on his behalf, but he cancelled too because of unfavorable weather. Instead, he visited Manila and Tacloban City in December last year, weeks after Typhoon Yolanda devasted parts of eastern Visayas.

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.

Just last year, Pyongyang launched several short-range guided missiles into the see off the Korean Peninsula in a move analysts see as a protest against US military forces in South Korea.

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 its 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.

Beijing, who is pushing for a bilateral negotiations with claimant countries to settle the disputes, rejected Manila’s invitation.

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.

BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON

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