ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, United States: President Barack Obama departed Washington yesterday for a week-long tour of Asia in what the White House has called a “rebalancing” eastward of US foreign policy.
Obama left Andrews Air Force Base at 10.30am (1430 GMT) aboard Air Force One, on a trip that was first to make a stopover in Washington state to visit the scene of a deadly landslide.
From there, the president’s itinerary was to take him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The visit is Obama’s fifth to the region during his presidency.
During his travel, Obama will attempt to make progress in dragged out negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, and reassure potential partners that he can get it endorsed by a reluctant Congress.
Senior US officials have said both Japanese and US trade officials have been working to narrow gaps on market access in the auto and agricultural sectors that have slowed broader TPP talks.
Obama is expected to offer guarded support for Japan in its bitter territorial dispute with China over a group of islands in the East China Sea, as Washington seeks to reassure its Asia-Pacific allies of its commitment to regional security in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
On Tuesday about 150 Japanese politicians risked further souring ties with China by visiting Yasukuni, a shrine in Tokyo that honours Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leaders hanged for war crimes by the allies.
In Seoul, Obama will hold talks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye that focus on North Korea’s belligerence. The US president will also attempt to ease tensions between Seoul and Tokyo.
Obama will then travel to Malaysia, where he will become the first US president to visit since Lyndon Johnson travelled there in 1966 as part of an Asian tour designed to check the spread of communism.
Obama begins his Malaysia programme with a state dinner on April 26.
The following day, he holds talks with Prime Minister Najib Razak and visits the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
In one of the keynote moments of the trip, he also will host a town hall style meeting with young leaders across Southeast Asia at Malaya University.
On April 28, Obama will head to the Philippines for talks with President Benigno Aquino. He is scheduled to hold a joint press conference with Aquino, and be the guest of honor at a state dinner.
The US president will also lay a wreath at the Second World War American cemetery.
China is not on the president’s itinerary but is expected to loom large throughout his Asia visit, because of its enormous reach as a regional economic and political behemoth.
Born in Hawaii and raised for four years in Indonesia, Obama early in his presidency declared himself America’s “first Pacific president” but his Asia agenda has been waylaid by recurring crises at home and in other parts of the globe. The president’s brief stopover yesterday before leaving the US mainland was to take him to Oso, Washington, some 95km northeast of Seattle. Obama was to survey damage from the disaster and meet survivors of the mudslide one month ago.