World News Brief, Wednesday April 23

Obama reasserts administration's focus on Asia-Pacific with trip to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines; China and Japan reignite World War II enmity; Nepalese officials try to convince sherpas to work season on Everest; Saudi health official sacked as deadly MERS virus spreads; and more 

Top of the Agenda

Obama Begins Asia Trip to Reassert Pivot

U.S. president Barack Obama leaves Washington on Tuesday for a state visit to Japan, the first leg of tour meant to reinvigorate his administration's strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific that will bring him to South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The visit comes as crisis management in Ukraine and the Middle East (WSJ) dominates much of the White House's attention, and is further complicated by ongoing tensions between Japan and South Korea, two economic powerhouses and Washington's closest allies in the region (NYT). In Japan, Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will discuss bolstering the security alliance, but a sought-after announcement on a regional free-trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is unlikely as negotiators failed to bridge differences over U.S. agricultural exports (Japan Times).


"President Obama can bolster these efforts this week by stressing in his public remarks at every stop that America's network of alliances rather than any single bilateral alliance is the foundation of his rebalance and the essential underpinning of U.S. strategy in Asia. This point is already evident in the administration's placement of multilateral approaches as the centerpiece for implementing the rebalance through efforts to establish a multilateral trade regime, the embrace of the East Asian Summit, and the diversification of military basing arrangements. In addition to selling America's commitment to the rebalance, President Obama should also encourage greater commitment by the allies to each other," writes CFR's Scott Snyder.

"The rebalancing of U.S. priorities and resources toward Asia remains the right strategy. This reorientation does not imply a turn away from allies in other regions or an abandonment of our commitments elsewhere. It represents a shift away from the war efforts in the Middle East and South Asia that have dominated U.S. national security policy and resources for the past decade and a shift toward the region that presents the most significant opportunity for the United States," writes CFR's Tom Donilon in the Washington Post.

"The Obama administration's inability to maintain its focus on Asia has been compounded by the arrival of John Kerry at the state department. Hillary Clinton, Mr Kerry's predecessor, understood the importance of Asia. Mr Kerry is much more engaged by the Middle East and Europe. His obsessional focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue – which is not even the most important issue in the Middle East, let alone the world – looks increasingly like a waste of time. Combined with the president's tendency to cancel trips to Asia in response to domestic crises, it has left Asians unsure about how seriously to take the pivot," writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times.


Pacific Rim

World War II-Era Claims Evoked in Resurgent Chinese, Japanese Nationalism

One hundred forty-seven Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals, in a move likely to be perceived as provocative by China, South Korea, and the United States (Japan Times). A Shanghai court ordered an unprecedented seizure of a Japanese ship a day prior as compensation for claims dating to World War II (Bloomberg), threatening the trade relationship.

CFR's interactive InfoGuide explains territorial disputes in the region.

Nepalese officials attempt to keep sherpas working at Everest
Saudi health official sacked as deadly MERS virus spreads