President Obama just completed a four-country trip to Asia two weeks ago. Before his trip, expectations were high that he could get some major achievements and China would be the loser. For example, U.S. analyst Ely Ratner expected Obama to do three things in Japan: 1) declare that Article V of the U.S.-Japan defense treaty covers the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands; 2) single out China for engaging in provocative and destabilizing actions; and 3) voice strong support for Japanese constitutional reinterpretation on the issue of collective self-defense, though as it turned out later, Obama only did the first thing.
However, when we look closer at what Obama got out of his Asia tour, overall the U.S. didn’t gain much from this trip, to the disappointment of hardliners in the U.S. and Japan. For example, even though Obama officially declared that the U.S.-Japan security treaty will cover the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, during his joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Obama also quickly pointed out that it is not a new policy and that both Japan and China should restrain themselves. In Obama’s words: “I emphasized with Prime Minister Abe the importance of resolving this issue peacefully — not escalating the situation, keeping the rhetoric low, not taking provocative actions, and trying to determine how both Japan and China can work cooperatively together. And I want to make that larger point. We have strong relations with China. They are a critical country not just to the region, but to the world.” What is really interesting here is that Obama also wants Japan to keep the rhetoric low and not to take provocative actions. Perhaps because of such balanced remarks and other issues, some Japanese commentators are disappointed.
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