US President Barack Obama embarked Thursday on his first presidential tour of Asia, a trip that will include stops in Japan, China, South Korea and the APEC summit in Singapore, as well as a meeting with all 10 ASEAN leaders.
AFP - US President Barack Obama kicked off his first tour of Asia on Friday with a visit to Japan, Washington's closest ally in a region increasingly dominated by rising giant China.
On his four-nation tour, Obama will seek to counter charges that America's influence in the world's most populous region is fading amid its domestic concerns and the distraction of US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US leader will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Singapore and meet Southeast Asian leaders before heading to China for three days and then wrapping up his trip in South Korea.
In Japan, where a new government took power two months ago, both sides will seek to smooth over a row on US bases and stress shared goals on climate change, the Afghanistan war and for a nuclear-weapons-free world.
Obama is to meet centre-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who took office after a landslide election win that ended half a century of conservative rule and who has vowed continued but "more equal" ties with Washington.
Hatoyama has said he may scrap an unpopular plan to build a new US military base on the southern Okinawa island, and that he will end a naval refuelling mission that has since 2001 supported the US campaign in Afghanistan.
Stressing humanitarian aid over military support, his government this week pledged five billion dollars in assistance for Afghanistan to help stabilise the war-torn country that is Obama's biggest foreign policy challenge.
Hatoyama, despite a more assertive stance towards the superpower, has voiced admiration for Obama and stressed similarities between their Democratic parties, which both defeated conservative governments on a promise of change.
The leaders were expected to agree to joint efforts to battle climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons, including the threat posed by North Korea which has in the past test-fired missiles across the Japanese islands.
"The president will first thank them for their renewed commitment to Afghanistan," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One before it landed in Tokyo. "They'll talk about the international economy, climate change as well as North Korea and non-proliferation."
Japan's top government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano said the summit would be "an opportunity to enhance relations in trust between our prime minister and the president. That's our top priority.
"At the same time, we would like to reach concrete agreements. The environment and economic issues, as well as our long-term perspective for Japan-US relations will be on the agenda."
A senior Obama administration official that the president was sensitive to the dynamics of the transition of power in Japan.
"There is plenty of experience in the US-Japan partnership with transitions in Washington, there is a lot less experience to changes in Tokyo. A historic transition has ocurred in Japan and it is still underway."
"I think the new leadership is sorting things out, the president has shown in word and deed that he is comfortable in that fact."
The official noted that Tokyo was the first stop on Obama's tour and that the president would stress "respect and responsibility -- mutual respect between two great nations."
The United States has been a key influence in Japan since its military "Black Ships" ended its centuries of self-imposed isolation in the mid-1800s.
World War II in the Pacific started with Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour and ended days after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the US post-war occupation of Japan.
As a legacy of that era, the United States still has 47,000 troops in Japan, most of them on Okinawa, where many residents oppose the US military presence.
Hatoyama has pledged to review a 2006 agreement to realign US forces in Japan, especially a plan to build a new air base in a coastal area of Okinawa.
More than 20,000 anti-base activists protested on the island last Sunday, and a fresh anti-US rally was expected Friday in Tokyo, where some 16,000 police were deployed to ensure security during Obama's visit.
Date created : 2009-11-12