News / Asia

    Analyst Q&A: Obama’s Agenda for Asia Visit

    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) during their meeting at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, April 24, 2014.
    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) during their meeting at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, April 24, 2014.
    Daniel Schearf
    President Obama is in Japan Thursday at the start of a four-country visit in East Asia reassuring U.S. allies of its commitment to security and stability in the region as part of the so-called “Asia pivot” or “re-balance.” The trip was delayed last year because of U.S. political fighting over budget issues. North Korea's nuclear and missile threats are expected to dominate talks in Japan and South Korea as there are indications Pyongyang is preparing its fourth nuclear test. China's increasingly assertive moves on disputed territory are also expected to be discussed as some worry Beijing may follow Russia's lead in Crimea by using force to take back historic claims. VOA spoke with the Deputy Director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, Daniel Pinkston, on these issues via Skype.
     
    Q: Obama is in Japan then coming to Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. After a delayed pivot, what issues do you see being at the top of the agenda?
     
    A: There are a number of bilateral issues in each of those countries. But, more than that I think regional security has been a problem, tensions have been rising in East Asia. There are a number of maritime disputes and historical issues that are causing tensions in the region. So, I think President Obama will focus on security. Regional security will be at the top of the agenda. He'll be looking to reassure allies and to send signals to adversaries or potential adversaries about American resolve in fulfilling its alliance commitments. And then also some economic issues, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, that will also be on the agenda.
     
    Q: There are signs of a potential fourth nuclear test by North Korea. South Korea says it would be a “game changer” if carried out. How would the game change?
     
    A: South Korea's Foreign Minister Yoon said that. I don't know exactly what he means by that statement. I don't know if he means a fourth test would somehow increase the credibility or reliability of North Korea's nuclear capabilities and therefore the threat would increase to a point that this would change the game. Or, if the response from the international community, which is expected to include increased sanctions and more pressure against North Korea - if that would be the game changer. Depending on your perspective, I can't speak for Minister Yoon. However, it's certainly not welcome and will not contribute to the security situation in Northeast Asia.
     
    Q: How important is it for the U.S. pivot, and dealing with the challenges of North Korea and China, to see the rift between Seoul and Tokyo repaired?
     
    A: Well, that is problematic from the U.S. perspective. Many policy makers in DC are very frustrated by this. They would like to see greater security cooperation amongst allies and friends in the region. But, because of historical issues, Korea was under Japanese colonial control in the early 20th century, there's a lot of historical animosity. South Korea and others in the region view Japanese behavior as attempting to bury that history or to whitewash some of the atrocities and the aggression from the war in the Pacific. And that has caused tensions between Seoul and Tokyo. The US would like to see this resolved so that the two countries could cooperate on very pressing issues such as North Korea's nuclear threat.
     
    Q: How should the Obama administration change its policy on North Korea to better deal with Pyongyang's threats and nuclear programs?
     
    A: That's a very difficult question. Many people are frustrated and criticize the administration for not doing something more proactive. However, it takes cooperation on Pyongyang's part. And, regardless of what kind of administration has been in Washington, or in Seoul, over the past 25 years, we've had a number of different combinations of Republican and Democratic presidents, and liberal and conservative governments in Seoul, and both countries have tried engagement, very progressive engagement, as well as hawkish policies. And neither of those seem to work. So, until North Korea changes its perspective, changes its thinking on international security, I don't see them being cooperative. The only thing that's really been consistent is that North Korea continues to work on its programs. They're very motivated to have a nuclear capability and the delivery systems. They've been working on this for decades now. So, I think the default position or default policy is deterrence and containment. It's suboptimal. But, the good news is I think North Korea can be contained and deterred. They wish to survive. They don't want to commit suicide. And, if they were to use these capabilities, of course, it would be over for North Korea.
     
    Q: U.S. officials are concerned China may use the weak international reaction to Russia's Crimea grab as inspiration to move on disputed territory in the East or South China Seas. How do you think Crimea affected Beijing's strategy on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute?
     
    A: Well, many people in East Asia are nervous about U.S. resolve and U.S. commitments. The cases you mentioned are offered lessons learned for friends, allies, and adversaries. Some people are worried this will give countries like China, and others, will embolden them to take aggressive action. That maybe they will feel that disputes can be resolved with force. And, there are a number of troubling trends from the perspective of East Asian allies and partners. The failure, or the inability, to respond with force following the chemical weapons use in Syria. The situation in Ukraine. Last year, President Obama's inability to come to the summits and the meetings in Bali. So, these signals to East Asia raises many questions about U.S. resolve. But, I think President Obama is going to address those issues. And, already, while in Japan, I think he's been very clear about U.S. alliance commitments and U.S. commitment to support its partners in the region.
     
    Q: The U.S. is set to transfer wartime command of South Korean troops back to South Korea next year and is supporting Japan's move toward "collective" defense. At the same time it is negotiating the possibility of resuming rotation of U.S. troops in the Philippines. Why do we see the U.S. military strategy changing in Asia?
     
    A: Well, because of the tensions and potential conflicts. So, the U.S. does have alliance treaties with Japan and Republic of Korea, has, I guess, de facto alliances with Philippines, has basing agreements with Singapore and, also alliance treaty, or commitment with Australia. So, the U.S. is deploying and has maintained troops and assets in East Asia for decades. There hasn't been a big shift in assets here, of military assets. But, they are bolstering that commitment on the margins and sending political signals. Also, part of this pivot includes more attention at the higher levels in Washington. So, it's diplomatic, it's also economic. The TPP is very important. Integrating these countries into a system of economic cooperation and mutual benefit is a big part of this Asian pivot. Most people focus on the military part but that's just one dimension of this strategy.
     
    Q: Anything else you'd like to add on these issues and President Obama's visit?
     
    A: In Seoul the big concern of course is how to deal with North Korea, how to manage the North Korean problem. There will be discussions about that. A couple of issues that, I guess at lower levels or working levels, that affect the alliance relationship is the OPCON transfer, what you mentioned, the transfer of operational control of South Korean troops during war time. That's scheduled for December 2015. The official position in Seoul now is that they would like to delay it for a couple of years. It's already been delayed twice. The U.S. wants to go forward with it. But, we'll see if that happens. That transition, whether it occurs or not, must be managed. And also, another bilateral issue that affects the alliance is the, what's called the “123 Agreement”, it's a bilateral nuclear cooperation deal. The U.S. and South Korea had signed a 40-year agreement back in 1974. It expired this year. They'd been negotiating renewal or a new agreement but were unable to reach a consensus and it was extended for two years. They're trying to negotiate that arrangement South Korea wants extended fuel cycle capabilities, particularly on the recycling of nuclear fuel. South Korea has a lot of nuclear power reactors and they're much more advanced in their nuclear technology today than they were 40 years ago. So, this is causing some tensions between the two countries. The U.S. would like to restrict those capabilities because of the proliferation concerns. But, hopefully they'll be able to work out an agreement. If not, this causes some tensions or frictions in the alliance. And, it's something that has to be managed as well.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, here's what the history of take-out food tells us about changes in American society

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora