Obama’s Asia trip to reiterate ‘pivot’ doctrine

The ‘Atomic Bomb Dome’, now part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb in August 1945.— FILE PHOTO: NYTNS  

Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam and Japan next week will reiterate the “rebalance to Asia” policy that many critics say has faltered after the initial push, a White House official has said. Mr. Obama’s visit will also resuscitate the memories of the U.S.’s difficult past of war and conflict with these two current partners in Asia.

Mr. Obama will be the first serving U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, one of the two Japanese cities on which the U.S. dropped atomic bombs in 1945. Many historians believe it was necessary to end the Second World War. Jimmy Carter visited Hiroshima in 1984, after he had left the White House

Focus on trade

The visit will also underscore the significance the Obama administration attaches to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that is the cornerstone of the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific policy, despite it being hotly contested in the ongoing presidential campaign. Maritimes disputes on the South China Sea will be part of the discussions at the G-7 meeting in Japan.

“This trip is a manifestation of two key elements of the rebalance. First, building new partnerships with emerging powers in the region like Vietnam; and second, strengthening our treaty allies including, with Japan, which is at the heart of our Asian strategy,” Daniel Kritenbrink, National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs, said. This will be Mr. Obama’s 10th visit as President to East Asia.

The U.S. opened full diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1995 but the relationship is far from smooth. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush visited Vietnam once each and this will be Mr. Obama’s first trip to the country that shares a border with China. Some reports suggest that Mr. Obama may ease arms sales to Vietnam, which has been suspended since the war. But concerns regarding human rights violations in the country still rattle U.S. administrations, and Mr. Obama will interact with civil society organisations in Hanoi.

War veterans

Given the domestic sensitivity of the visit, National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with representatives of U.S. military veterans, for whom the war in Vietnam and the bombing of Hiroshima have subjective meanings too. “[I]n that meeting, Ambassador Rice was able to explain to our veterans organisations the reasons why we’re conducting this trip, what our objectives are, what we hope to achieve going forward. But she also emphasised we’ll never forget the sacrifices of our veterans and the great contributions that they’ve made — [that] is what in many ways has allowed us to achieve what we’ve achieved today,” Mr. Kritenbrink said.

The White House had earlier said the President would not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb while visiting Hiroshima. “He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War-II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focussed on our shared future,” Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, said earlier in the month.