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President Obama left Tuesday on a trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines in pursuit of his so-called pivot to Asia.
The pivot announced in 2012, which implies a shift in foreign-affairs concentration away from the Middle East and South Asia, has been re-tagged a “rebalance” of U.S. policy. The reality of the change has also been revised by the continued siren call of the Middle East, reflected in talks between Israelis and Palestinians and between Iranians and other countries over Iran’s nuclear program, and by the showdown between Russia and Ukraine.
Even without the distractions, there is no reason to think Mr. Obama’s talks with his Asian counterparts will be trouble-free. He will be trying to sell his Trans-Pacific Partnership to his hosts: The TPP is a 12-country trade agreement that is intended to try to fence off China, whose economic dominance increases and to some extent alarms other countries in the region. The problems of the TPP include reluctance by Asian neighbors to annoy China, and their knowledge of the difficulty Mr. Obama will have in selling the pact to Congress.
Countries on the President’s itinerary are also beset by problems. Japan and South Korea continue to scrap over remnants of World War II — whether Japan should apologize for using Koreans as “comfort women,” and whether Japanese leaders should be allowed to visit the Yasukuni shrine, whose honorees include convicted war criminals.
Malaysia is still trying to recover from the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its inadequate response to that tragedy. The Philippines wants to wrest control of the Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop in the South China Sea, from China. North Korea is believed to be planning another nuclear test while President Obama is in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, China has reminded America of its importance to U.S. business by announcing the purchase by Shandong Airlines of 50 Boeing 737s for $4.6 billion. Mr. Obama will likely find his Asian pivot a difficult step to master.
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