President Barrack Obama is headed back home on Tuesday after visiting four Asian countries, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Malaysia—but not China.
Whether or not his trip was timed to announce support to Japan during the China-Japan island sovereignty disputes, he did just that. In spite of this, he didn’t snag that Japan trade deal he was after for his troubles. China saw it coming, and reported harshly on the American president’s attempts to “contain” China, and so on, but that was most likely for domestic purposes only.
Obama really needed to secure some trade deals, and at the same time, according to The Economist, the Asian countries were seeking “beefed-up military and diplomatic commitments from Obama,” which he delivered. But did he come home with what he set out to accomplish? Not so much—it’s complicated.
The Economist concluded: “It seems that his Asian hosts—in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines successively—got rather more out of the visiting American president than he got out of them.”
In a nutshell, here’s what Obama achieved, and didn’t achieve, in Asia:
CHINA: U.S. backs Japan
Obama didn’t visit China, but they were watching him very closely. While in Tokyo, he officially confirmed the U.S.-Japan security agreement, stating that as allies, America had Japan’s back if they are threatened. This of course is directed at China, who is pushing heavily for control of the Diaoyutai, or Senkaku, islands that it claims as inherently China’s. Japan disagrees. Muscles are being flexed and belts tightened.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Obama issued a joint statement explaining that the “islands between Japan and China fall under the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,” and that they “share strong concern over” China’s recent military actions in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
China responded with disdain that other countries should meddle in their affairs, promising to resolve the issue with dialogue, according to a Want China Times report, adding they would never back down—meanwhile, moving the air force into said island region.
America has not actually stated who it believes the islands should belong to, only that it is bound by the Treaty to back Japan.
JAPAN: No Deal
Obama wanted a further commitment from Japan and Malaysia to his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which encompasses 12 Pacific countries, excluding China. The only thing they agreed on in the end was more talks.
PHILIPPINES: Got more U.S. military commitments
The Philippines and Japan have felt the threat from China recently, both for having disputed ownership of some islands and shoal areas. Both countries are also American allies.
The Philippines was pleased to sign a new 10-year “enhanced defense co-operation agreement” with Obama.
“This will give America a significant military presence in the country [and its waters],” said The Economist report. “The new pact will also allow the Philippines to buy more American naval vessels and aircraft more quickly—just the sort of kit it would need to mount a credible deterrence against Chinese naval incursions into its territorial waters.”
Avoiding future crises in the coastal waters off China’s coast is why CNN believed Obama was setting up camp back in the Philippines. “[It’s that] crisis Obama wants to prevent through greater U.S. attention to China’s neighbors. In Seoul, the President said China “has to abide by ‘certain norms’ when it comes to its quarrels with neighbors.”
SOUTH KOREA: Shoulder to shoulder with the U.S.
The most notable achievement of Obama’s 2-day South Korea visit was war related. The agreement they came to is that in bi-national defense, South Korean troops would come under American command in the instance of war.
War threats from North Korea are a constant reality, and Obama said he “stood shoulder to shoulder” with the South.
MALAYSIA: Complicated and disappointing
Obama’s TPP plan incorporates timidly opening up Malaysia. They are interested in more trade with America, but are not ready to commit due to the many inter-political hurdles facing the Malaysian government.
Prime Minister Najib Razak summed up Malaysia’s hesitance to trade deals as “Malaysian sensitivities,” reported The Economist. Consider this: The opposition leader is facing a 5-year prison sentence for sodomy, a charge he claims is a political plot.