Tokyo, Seoul Prepare for Obama Visit

Kim Tae-gyu


From the Korea Times and our content partner New America Media:



All eyes are on President Barack Obama’s itinerary for his planned trip to Asia in April as Korea and Japan are now embroiled in a fierce historical and territorial battle of nerves.


Obama is widely expected to visit Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Malaysia as well as Japan. Of interest is whether or not his stops will include Seoul and how long he will stay in Tokyo.


“Korea strongly hopes that somebody will give a warning to Japanese leaders, who are leaning further to the right, and the United States would be the right player to do so,” said Professor Shin Yul at Myongji University.


“If Obama stays a short time in Tokyo and visits Seoul, the latter’s officials would interpret it as a warning to the former. Plus, Obama might take a flight to Seoul due to the rising uncertainty in Pyongyang.”


Obama was generally predicted to stop in Tokyo during his April trip but Seoul also requested that he visit at a time when the two neighbors’ relationships hit a nadir due to ongoing disputes.


Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se made this offer last month when he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The U.S. did not immediately give a clear response to the invitation.


Citing anonymous Japanese sources, a domestic newspaper reported Monday that the U.S. rejected the proposal of Japan that Obama pay a state visit to Tokyo for two nights and three days.


Instead, Obama is reportedly scheduled to cut his itinerary in Japan to visit Seoul in order to avoid any misunderstandings from the international community, which was critical of Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors 14 Class-A war criminals.



There is a growing call within the U.S urging Obama not to skip Korea in April as shown in a Jan. 31 article in the Washington Post. Three experts co-wrote the piece, including Armitage International President Richard Armitage and Professor Victor Cha of Georgetown University.


“Visiting key treaty allies Tokyo and Manila, while skipping another key ally South Korea on Obama’s first trip to Asia of his second term would be an embarrassment for South Korean President Park Geun-hye, particularly given how prickly relations are between Tokyo and Seoul,” it read.


“We would not recommend that Obama try to arbitrate the complex historical problems between Japan and South Korea. But this trip is the ideal opportunity to keep the leadership in Tokyo and Seoul focused on what we can and must do together in the future.”


A senior Cheong Wa Dae official said that talks are underway with Washington and could not confirm anything.


Korea Times

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