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Obama kicks off four-nation Asia tour with visit to Japan

April 23, 2014 at 6:18 PM EST
Obama Asia visit
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GWEN IFILL: President Obama’s trip to reassure allies in Asia kicked off with handshakes, smiles, sushi, and angry words from China and North Korea.

When the president landed in Tokyo in the evening, he was the first U.S. leader to visit Japan in nearly two decades. Mr. Obama was greeted by U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, who joined him for a sushi dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Tokyo is the first stop on a four-nation Asian tour, delayed six months by last fall’s government shutdown in Washington.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I announced our desire to pivot and focus on the Asia Pacific region...

GWEN IFILL: The trip is also the latest step in a stated policy shift toward Asia, and away from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama laid out that goal 18 months ago while visiting Thailand.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Once, I think, we had not had the same kind of presence in a region that is growing faster, developing faster than anyplace else in the world.

GWEN IFILL: But that presence and focus has taken a back seat to other international concerns in the Middle East, and now in Ukraine, as a resurgent Russia flexes its muscle. Still, many in Japan hope the president’s trip will yield results.

TORU NAKAMURA, Government Worker (through interpreter): Hopefully, he can improve Japan-China-South Korea relations and do something about TPP.

GWEN IFILL: TPP is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mammoth trade deal being negotiated among the U.S., Japan and 10 other nations. It would account for 40 percent of global trade.

The president also plans stops in South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. But he will not be traveling to China, the emerging dominant power in the region. There have been growing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over a disputed chain of islands. The U.S. sides with Japan, and Chinese officials accused Washington today of trying to cage their nation.

QIN GAN, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, China (through interpreter): The U.S. should be discreet in words and deeds to play a constructive role, to contribute to regional peace and stability.

GWEN IFILL: In South Korea, President Obama will arrive in the shadow of national calamity, the sinking of a ferry with hundreds of schoolchildren aboard.

The visit has also incurred the wrath of North Korea, amid reports it may be preparing for another nuclear test.

MAN (through interpreter): Obama’s trip is a reactionary and dangerous one, as it is aimed at escalating confrontation and bringing dark clouds of a nuclear arms race to hang over this unstable region.

GWEN IFILL: From Seoul, the president travels to Malaysia, where the government is under pressure over the failure to find a missing airliner after seven weeks.

And the president’s final stop, the Philippines, has seen sometimes-violent protests in recent days over plans for an expanded U.S. military presence