Pivot home

President Obama addresses U.S. and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila this week.
President Obama addresses U.S. and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila this week.

President Obama has returned from a weeklong trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. He traveled there to underscore his “pivot to Asia” policy, which recognizes the growing importance of Asian countries in creating trade and investment opportunities for the United States.

As part of that focus, Mr. Obama is giving his greatest attention to U.S.-China relations, given the two countries’ sales to and investments in each other, as well as America’s multitrillion-dollar debt to China. Although the itinerary of his visit skipped China and included two of its regional rivals, the President has been assiduous in his attention to China and its leaders.

On his trip, Mr. Obama promoted the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that includes seven Asian nations. If the Senate approves the agreement — a doubtful prospect — it would reduce tariff barriers. The President made no visible progress on the pact.

Mr. Obama handed out gifts along the way. To Japan, he pledged U.S. support in its dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that China and Japan both claim.

In South Korea, he stood alongside a president who has faced criticism over the sinking of a ferry boat that killed hundreds of passengers. In Malaysia, he soothed a government that has dealt ineptly with the disappearance of an airline flight and its 200-plus passengers. In the Philippines, Mr. Obama signed a 10-year agreement allowing for an increased U.S. military presence.

The U.S. guarantee of the Japanese position on the disputed islands may pose problems down the road. The wise U.S. course is in the middle, urging negotiations by China and Japan.

The value to the United States of more access to bases in the Philippines, as that country also quarrels with China, is dubious. And he didn’t need to go to South Korea or Malaysia to show solidarity with the governments there.