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Obama to Begin Fifth Trip to Asia-Pacific Region

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2014 – President Barack Obama will begin his fifth visit to the Asia-Pacific region April 23 -- a six-day trip that includes stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines -- to underscore his administration’s continued focus on the world’s largest emerging region.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosts a roundtable meeting in Honolulu with 10 defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Honolulu, April 2, 2014. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, announced the trip April 18, noting that the president had to postpone planned visits to Malaysia and the Philippines last year during the Oct. 1-16 government shutdown.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice joined Rhodes for the announcement.

“Over the next five years, nearly half of all growth outside the United States is expected to come from Asia,” Rice said.

The region includes several important U.S. allies, developing democracies and emerging powers, she added, “so we increasingly see our top priorities as tied to Asia, whether it’s accessing new markets or promoting exports, or protecting our security interests and promoting our core values.”

Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines intersect with the administration’s priorities, Rice said, which include modernizing alliances, supporting democratic development, advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and commercial ties, investing in regional institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and deepening cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

The TPP is a proposed trade agreement under negotiation by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. The agreement seeks to enhance trade and investment among TPP partner countries; promote innovation, economic growth and development; and support job creation and retention.

“Expanding American trade and investment links with Asia is also fundamental to our efforts to access new markets, create American jobs [and] export more goods from here in the United States to that very important region,” Rice said. “Throughout the trip, the president will … meet with business leaders and promote initiatives like SelectUSA that support investment in the United States.”

SelectUSA seeks to highlight advantages the United States offers as a location for business and investment.

“The TPP is a focal point of our effort to establish high standards for trade across the Asia Pacific and ensure a level playing field for U.S. businesses and workers,” Rice added.

In visiting Japan and Malaysia, two of the 12 key TPP partners, she said, the president will have a chance to continue to make progress on the agreement.

The trip also will give the United States a chance to affirm its commitment to a rules-based order in the region, the national security adviser said, at a time of ongoing regional tensions, particularly with regard to North Korea and territorial disputes.

“There’s a significant demand for U.S. leadership in the region, and our strategy of rebalancing to Asia includes economic, political, security and cultural interests in Northeast and Southeast Asia,” Rice noted.

“No other nation … has a network of alliances and partnerships in Asia that match ours,” she said, “and our alliances remain the foundation of our strategy.”

The United States is focused on modernizing these alliances to make them more relevant to the 21st century and to security challenges, while building them into platforms for cooperation on regional and global challenges, the national security advisor added.

Modernizing alliances also was a focus of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s April 1-10 visit to the Asia-Pacific region, his fourth in less than 12 months.

Hagel began the trip with in Hawaii for a meeting that he initiated and hosted with defense ministers of the 10 member countries of ASEAN -- Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Hagel had invited them to Hawaii during the previous year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, and it was the first ASEAN defense ministers meeting held on American soil.

During the meeting, the ministers met Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Kathryn Sullivan, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA, part of the Commerce Department, has a new building in Honolulu, and its Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s 24/7 operational team and other experts there deliver tsunami warnings for every country in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

As Hagel’s military aircraft had flown over the Pacific Ocean toward Hawaii the previous afternoon, in fact, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake had struck the coast of northern Chile, killing five people and prompting tsunami advisories by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center as far away as Hawaii.

By the time Hagel and the ministers were briefed at the NOAA center about typhoons, tsunamis and sea-level rise, the advisories had been cancelled.

Charles McCreery, the center’s director, showed Hagel and the ministers a simulation of the March 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, and the resulting tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people and injured more than 6,000, according to Japan’s National Police Agency.

Afterward, Hagel, Shah, Sullivan, the ministers, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and others participated in a roundtable discussion on disaster preparedness and relief.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Asia-Pacific region is hit by more than 70 percent of the world’s natural disasters. In his remarks before the roundtable, Shah praised Hagel’s vision of using the ASEAN Defense Forum to build greater cooperation across the range of issues that bring the region together as a community.

Broadly, the ministers also focused on military-to-military relationships and joint exercises that secure and stabilize the region, Hagel said at the meeting, assuring that all nations have commercial options, and on regional security issues.

As the forum ended, Hagel said success during the first U.S.-ASEAN Defense Forum held in the United States had strengthened friendships among nations and increased partnership opportunities that will help everyone in the region deal with new and enduring Asia-Pacific security challenges.

After his stop in Hawaii, Hagel also visited defense and government leaders in Japan, China and Mongolia.

In the White House briefing on Obama’s upcoming trip, Rice said that given its rapid economic growth and political clout, Southeast Asia has been another cornerstone of the administration’s strategy.

“And the president’s historic visit to Malaysia, the first since Lyndon Baines Johnson [visited in 1966], as well as to the Philippines, will advance our engagement with this critical region,” Rice added.

During the trip, she said, the president will reaffirm the United States’ steadfast commitment to allies and partners who allow the nation to deter threats and respond to disasters, and “he will build on the progress of his recent trilateral meeting with Japan and Korea in The Hague as we seek to advance trilateral defense cooperation more broadly.”

The president also will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes consistent with international law, and underscore the U.S. commitment to help in responses to humanitarian and other disasters, Rice added.

“Our Asian partners frequently look to the United States as a partner of first choice, given our significant and unique capabilities, and our technical expertise,” she said. “And indeed, in each of the countries we will be visiting, we have seen in the last few years tragedies of the sort that have been exceedingly taxing and traumatic for the people of those countries.”

In each instance, she added, the United States has been able to lend prompt and effective support to its friends and partners in support of their response.

“We have demonstrated throughout -- whether from the Japan earthquake in 2011, the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines, the Malaysian Air flight 370 tragedy, and now the ferry disaster in South Korea -- that we are there for our friends and partners when they need us most.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)

 

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