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President Obama arrived in Tokyo today (April 23) for the start of his weeklong tour of Asia. The president has multiple stops scheduled in Japan as well as South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Joseph Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, shares his thoughts on what the president hopes to accomplish and what he might encounter during this trip.
Q: What are the primary purposes of the president’s trip? What important U.S. interests are at stake?
Nye: A major part of President Obama’s long-term strategy has been his rebalance towards Asia. He felt that we wasted the first decade of this century, and needed to place more attention on the fastest growing part of the world economy. Events in other parts of the world, as well as the government shut-down that delayed his Asia trip last Fall called this strategy into question in the region. This trip will aim to repair that damage.
Q: Does the president hope to break new ground on his visits to any of the four countries?
Nye: The most important objectives for the trip will be to reassure allies, but in addition he hopes to make progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that is an important part of his rebalance strategy.
Q: Do you feel that recent disasters in Asia could disrupt the president’s agenda on the trip?
Nye: Disasters such as the sinking of the ferry in South Korea will certainly feature in his trip. Koreans will still be mourning the tragic loss of life of so many young people.
Q: How does Mr. Obama handle the delicate balance of recognizing the tragic events endured by the countries he’s visiting and advancing his agenda?
Nye: The president must express the condolences and concerns of the American people. This is something he has done well in the past. And when Japan suffered the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear melt down a few years ago, the assistance provided by US forces in Japan had a strong impact in reinforcing the US-Japan alliance.
Q: Are there any other thoughts you would like to add about the president’s four-country tour?
Nye: I believe that Obama’s strategy of rebalancing towards Asia makes sense for the long term, but events have slowed its implementation. This trip is an important opportunity to repair that damage.