WASHINGTON— President Barack Obama begins a weeklong trip to Asia next Tuesday, in a bid to reassure allies in the region. Obama will travel to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
China is not on the itinerary, but with its efforts to control parts of the East and South China Sea, Beijing is on the minds of Obama and the allies he is visiting.
U.S. military cuts are making regional partners nervous about Washington's commitments to defend them.
“I'm confident President Obama will give bold rhetoric, reassuring our allies that we can still run as fast and jump as high, but whether they believe that will be the other issue. Our allies, like our opponents, can read a budget sheet just as easily as the rest of us in Washington can,” said Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner.
The nations Obama is visiting have ongoing territorial disputes with China.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has just been to China, and has said the U.S. does not view Beijing as an enemy. But the administration sees China - with its growing military - as a potential threat.
Washington's decisions to not attack Syrian forces or provide significant military support to Ukraine have raised questions about whether the U.S. would step in to defend its Asian allies.
“There’s obviously been a lot of talk about, questions, about the power and influence of the United States vis-à-vis actions in Syria and the Ukraine. But we’ll see, this effort is clearly meant to send the message that the United States remains committed and strong in Asia,” said Ely Ratner, an Asia analyst with the Center for a New American Security.
That message is especially important to Japan, the main U.S. ally in the region and where the president will make his first stop. There, Obama will work to speed up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement.
Trade is also on the agenda at his next stop, South Korea, where he will discuss North Korea, and try to ease relations between Seoul and Tokyo. They are strained by the memory of Japanese atrocities in the first half of the 20th century.
Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since 1966.
The last stop is the Philippines, where the U.S. closed its permanent bases decades ago, but has been in negotiations to rotate troops, airplanes and ships into the country.