US President Obama departs for a weeklong tour of Asia; President Obama arrives in Japan; President Obama: A group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing "fall within the scope" of a U.S.-Japanese security treaty; O
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  • According to reports, President Barack Obama departed Washington on April 22 for a weeklong tour of Asia in what the White House has called a "rebalancing" eastward of US foreign policy. Obama left Andrews Air Force Base aboard Air Force One, on a trip that was first to make a stopover in Washington state to visit the scene of a deadly landslide. From there, the president's itinerary was to take him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. The visit is Obama's fifth to the region during his presidency. 1

    Reports noted that President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on April 23 for the first part of his Asia trip that started with reassuring Tokyo of United States’ support in its bitter territorial dispute with China. He told a Japanese newspaper that a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing "fall within the scope" of a U.S.-Japanese security treaty, implying the United States could step in militarily in the event of a clash over the territory. It's the first time an incumbent U.S. President has made such a statement on the bitterly disputed islands, and comes as Asian nations nervously watch the U.S. response to Russia's incursion into Ukraine. Japan has eyed the Ukraine situation closely. "We oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands," Obama said in answers to questions submitted by the Yomiuri Shimbun. 2

    According to reports, President Obama affirmed April 24 that U.S. treaty obligations to Japan extend to a chain of contested islands in the East China Sea, even as he emphasized that Japan and China should seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute. Speaking at a news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama said the United States does not take a position “on final sovereignty over the islands,” which are called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China. But he noted that a long-standing treaty dictates that the United States would defend against any attack aimed at Japan. “We don’t take a position on final sovereignty determinations with respect to Senkakus, but historically they have been administered by Japan, and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally,” he said. “And what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.” “At the same time,” Obama said, he has told Abe directly “that it would be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue rather than dialogue and confidence-building measures between Japan and China.” Obama emphasized that the position he was articulating “is not new.” He noted at one point, “First of all, the treaty between the United States and Japan preceded my birth, so obviously, this isn’t a ‘red line’ that I’m drawing.” 3

    According to reports, President Barack Obama has said that Japan’s use of South Korean “comfort women” during World War II was a terrible and egregious violation of human rights. Obama noted that South Korean women were violated in ways that were shocking even in the midst of war. He said that those women deserve to be heard and respected and that there should be a clear account of what happened. Obama made these remarks while a news conference in Seoul with South Korean President Park Geun-hye (goon-hay). President Obama noted that the Japanese people and their prime minister understand the past must be recognized honestly. Obama urged Japan and South Korea to move forward because their interests clearly converge. 4

    Meanwhile, According to reports, US President Barack Obama warned North Korea that the US will not shy away from defending its allies, as he addresses US troops stationed in Seoul US President Barack Obama's visit to Seoul came as North Korea threatened to conduct its fourth nuclear test, leading Obama to raise the possibility of further sanctions. "The commitment that the United States of America has made to the security of the Republic of Korea only grows stronger in the face of aggression," Obama said in a speech to some of the 28,000 US service members stationed in South Korea to keep watch on its northern neighbour. "Our alliance does not waiver with each bout of their attention seeking. It just gains the support of the rest of the world," President Obama said. 5

    However, according to reports, North Korea has strongly denounced the US's strategy to focus attention on Asia as President Barack Obama is set to visit Asia next week. In a statement released by its spokesman the North's Foreign Ministry said April 21 that Obama's planned Asia trip is part of the US's strategic pivot to Asia. According to Korea's (KBS WORLD) website, the spokesman said Obama's trip is a dangerous plan that could bring about dark clouds of a nuclear arms race and conformation to an already unstable region.. 6

    According to reports, Malaysia and the United States has broadened their relations on April 27 in a push to enhance security in Southeast Asia and to untangle issues holding back a trans-Pacific trade deal that could be a major boost for global commerce. The comprehensive partnership marks a new phase in Malaysia-U.S. ties with "greater collaboration" on the economy, security, education, science and technology among others, Prime Minister Najib Razak told a joint press conference after a meeting with President Barack Obama. The countries will strengthen their dialogue with the aim of advancing "common interests and the shared values of the people of the United States and Malaysia,'' according to a statement released by the White House. The U.S. was Malaysia's largest source of foreign capital last year, with American firms investing $1.9 billion and creating almost 8,000 new jobs. It would be worth noting that bilateral trade averaged $35 billion annually from 2010 to 2013. Obama's trip to Malaysia is the first by a U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson's visit in 1966. He had already stopped in Japan and South Korea and will conclude his Asian tour in the Philippines, part of an effort to rebalance U.S. relations with Asia and to reinforce pledges to strengthen both economic and security ties. "Malaysia welcomes America's rebalancing towards Asia," Najib said after his meeting with Obama, saying that both leaders stressed "the importance of upholding universally recognized principles" in dealing with competing claims, including the Law of the Sea treaty, a 1982 global legal framework under U.N. auspices that Obama has promoted. Malaysia and the U.S. are "committed to resolving the remaining issues" related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, Najib said, thanking President Obama for his understanding of Malaysia's "sensitivities" in the negotiation. 7

    In another development, according to reports, outgoing US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell said on April 25 that the new government post elections could convene a Track 1.5 event during its first 100 days to begin a conversation on how to accomplish $500 billion in bilateral goods and services trade between the two countries. The development assumes significance as Indo-US relations haven’t fully recovered from the impact of the Devyani Khobragade episode. Negotiators from the two sides had discussed ways to achieve this when they’d met face-to-face for technical discussions in February and a logical next step in making significant advances in bilateral trade is for the United States and India to sign a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), Powell said. “We need to push forward these negotiations because a successful BIT will bring benefits to both countries, and it could also pave the way for more far-reaching agreements that could potentially yield much larger trade results for both our economies,” Ambassador Powell said. “We are ready to discuss how India might develop that capacity in a way that does not constrain trade... By the same token, we ask that India engage with the United States, at senior and working levels, to have those difficult discussions on issues such as intellectual property rights and taxation.” Over the 10-year period from 2004-2013, U.S. exports to India grew about 15 per cent annually and are currently at about $35 billion. “This created an estimated 120,000 new U.S. jobs,” said Ms. Powell. The top U.S. exports to India were: manufactured goods, transportation equipment, and chemicals, along with education services, which totalled nearly $15 billion during 2013. India’s top exports to the United States were: manufactured goods, chemicals, and apparel and textiles, along with information technology (IT) services. India’s exports to the US in 2013 were in excess of $38 billion. The excess of Indian exports to over imports from the United States was nearly $26 billion in 2013. “Much of this trade was in high value products and services,” said Powell. “So, just as the U.S. exports to India create U.S. jobs, U.S. imports from India generate economic activity and jobs here”. 8