Obama Looks to Boost Economic, Security Ties in Asia

Manila Bulletin, May 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

Obama Looks to Boost Economic, Security Ties in Asia


HANOI, Vietnam -- President Barack Obama's mission in Vietnam and Japan is to build stronger economic and security ties with Asian-Pacific allies anxious about the rise of an increasingly muscular China. That forward-looking message will be delivered even as he confronts the legacies of two wars long past -- Vietnam and World War II -- that still are fraught with emotion.

Obama's first stop on his weeklong Asia trip was Vietnam, where he is the third sitting president to visit since the end of the war. Four decades after the fall of Saigon, and two decades after President Bill Clinton restored relations with the nation, Obama is eager to upgrade relations with an emerging power whose rapidly expanding middle class beckons as a promising market for U.S. goods and an offset to China's growing strength in the region.

Obama arrived in Hanoi late Sunday (May 22, 2016). He went to the Presidential Palace and complimented the Vietnamese on making "extraordinary progress." Obama referred to strengthened ties between the two countries and took a photo with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. Obama and Quang will also hold a press conference after their meeting.

During his three-day stay in Vietnam, he'll make the case for stronger commercial and security ties, including approval of the 12-nation trans-Pacific trade agreement that is stalled in Congress and facing strong opposition from the 2016 presidential candidates. Vietnam also is hoping that Obama will use the visit to erase an irksome vestige of the war by lifting the U.S. partial embargo on selling arms to the country. The idea is under consideration, but concern about Vietnam's human rights record could weigh against it.

In Japan, Obama will attend a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, where the uncertain global economy will be a top concern of the G-7 leaders. They'll also grapple with a full array of world challenges, including the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, the refugee crisis in Europe and Russian aggression. Also on the agenda will be Beijing's assertive claims in the South China Sea that are causing tensions with other countries in the region.

While the summit isn't expected to produce any breakthroughs, it gives leaders a rare opportunity to talk through the intractable difficulties they confront.

"Remember that leaders are lonely people," says Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the private Center for Strategic and International Studies. "These people don't have much time to sit down with their peers to talk about common challenges."

For all of that, the culminating moment of Obama's trip will be a solemn visit to Hiroshima, where the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people, ushering in the nuclear age seven decades ago. Another bomb killed 70,000 in Nagasaki three days later.

It will be a moment to reflect on the devastating costs of war and to try to give new impetus to the call for a nuclear-free world that Obama issued seven years ago in his first year as president. …

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