The White House released the itinerary late Wednesday afternoon for President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia.
A statement published on the White House’s website said that President Obama will visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines during his Asia trip in late April. Specific dates for the trip were not given.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice first announced that President Obama would be traveling to Asia in April during a speech she gave at Georgetown University on U.S. Asia policy last November. The administration had not previously announced which countries the trips would include, although local media outlets in places like South Korea had been reporting on discussions in their countries to have President Obama visit.
The upcoming trip is itself a make-up trip for the one that President Obama canceled in October because of the government shutdown in Washington, DC. That trip was supposed to take him to the Philippines and Malaysia for bilateral visits, as well as to Indonesia and Brunei for regional conferences. The visits to the Philippines and Malaysia therefore come as no surprise.
Obama’s decision to visit America’s two closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, is inconsistent with the October trip, which would have focused exclusively on Southeast Asia. The change in the itinerary is likely due to the escalating tensions in the region since China announced its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in November of last year. America has also been pushing Japan and South Korea to mend ties, a theme Obama will likely take up during his trip.
The new itinerary also suggests that a final text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is not imminent. The nations participating in the TPP negotiations had hoped to have a final text ready for Obama and his counterparts to sign during the October trip. The deadline for a final text agreement had been set for the end of 2013, although it was long clear that this was likely to be missed. The White House’s statement on Wednesday announcing the trip said that the TPP would be one part of the agenda during Obama’s stop in Japan.
In general, the Asia trip fits in well with Obama’s other trips and leadership summits this spring, which are mostly with strong and longstanding allies throughout the globe. This week, for instance, President Obama hosted French President Hollande for a state dinner at the White House. On Friday he will host the leader from Jordan, a strong U.S. ally in the Middle East, at a summit in California. At the beginning of March, Obama will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. Shortly thereafter Obama will leave for his second trip to Saudi Arabia as president.
Last year, in particular, the administration was routinely criticized for managing U.S. alliances poorly. So far this is shaping up as the “spring of redemption,” or at least that is the White House’s hope.