US President Barack Obama will kick off his Asian tour later this month with a landmark visit to Japan, the United States’ closest ally in the region.
Obama is set to arrive at the Japanese capital on April 23 for a historic three-day visit aimed at reinforcing Washington’s strong economic and defense ties with Tokyo at a time of growing regional tensions.
Following a packed schedule that will begin as soon as he lands at Haneda airport on Wednesday, Obama is expected to hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and meet with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on April 24, his only full day.
Tokyo had been pushing for a three-day visit—instead of just two as had been earlier planned—to emphasize the strength of the ties between the two economies.
Japanese and US leaders are expected to discuss further strengthening their countries’ security alliance against the backdrop of North Korea’s nuclear provocations and China’ s rapid economic and military rise.
Washington is also looking to jump start the stalled bilateral negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Akitaka Saiki, vice foreign minister, said he hopes that Obama’s visit to Japan will send a strong message that “the Japan-US alliance has advanced in a solid manner.”
Obama will head to South Korea on April 25 and then to Malaysia on the 26th before flying to the Philippines for the last leg of his Asian trip.
Obama has visited Japan twice since he became US president in 2009 but will be making the country’s first state visit since Bill Clinton in 1996.
He cancelled his trip to Southeast Asia in October of last year amid a partial shutdown of the US government.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image: “Barack Obama in Virginia – August 2nd” by Barack Obama/Flickr