|Obama skips China in late April Asia trip
US President Barack Obama will seek to ease questions over the staying power of his strategic shift to increasingly tense East Asia in April with stops in Japan, Malaysia, Philippines and South Korea. But he will skip China.
The White House did not give exact dates, other than saying it would take place in late April, AFP reports.
Obama's visits to Manila and Kuala Lumpur are intended to make up for his no-show when he cancelled a previous Asia tour in October amid political strife in Washington.
A subtext to his visit will be rising territorial tensions between several US allies and China, which deepened over Beijing's recent declaration of an “air defense identification zone'' in the East China Sea.
Beijing was also angered last week when Washington stiffened its line on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, calling for adjusting or clarifying its claims.
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.''
He will try to push negotiations on a 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 China.
The president, however, may encounter some skepticism from regional partners because Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, a key Obama ally, has expressed skepticism about granting him expanded powers to negotiate trade deals.
In light of Reid's remarks, Pacific Rim nations will be loath to make concessions in the trade talks, fearing that any deal agreed may be modified by the US Congress.
Obama will stop first in Japan, where he will meet Abe. Then he will travel to Seoul for talks with Park.
From Seoul, Obama will head to Malaysia to meet Prime Minister Najib Razak to discuss deepening defense and military ties.
Obama will be the first US president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson in 1966.
His final stop will be Manila, where he will meet President Benigno Aquino and discuss evolving military relations designed to include rotations of US troops in the country.