The President’s Asia tour, take 2: Why South Korea and Japan made the list

By Karam Singh Sethi
Feb. 16, 2014

Don’t get their hopes up Mr. President, you cancelled on them once already (albeit due to historic Congressional malfeasance).

On Wednesday the White House released a memo announcing Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia.  The president will visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. Which specific countries the president would choose was met with much anticipation.  Obama’s October visit included conferences in Indonesia and Brunei (which explains why these two countries are being nixed this time around) before he had to cut his trip short, leaving out planned visits to Malaysia and the Philippines.  But South Korea and Japan weren’t on the original list to begin with.

So how did South Korea and Japan, two long standing U.S. allies, get the golden tickets?

Japan:  The territorial dispute is heating up.  Back in November, China called for aircraft-identification over what China calls the Diaoyu islands and Japan calls the Senkaku islands.  China claims it to be routine defense measures, but Japan is feeling encroached upon by the Asian Tiger.  The U.S. is concerned the “war of words” may actually result in armed conflict over the disputed seas.

South Korea:  Glowing talks between the South and North have been non-existent in recent memory.  However, from February 20-25 a colossal event will take place, shining a light in the darkness. Separated families will reunite at the border; 100 people from each side.  The president’s visit will praise solidarity and signal the international community’s watchful, yet hopeful, attention.

While there is a sense of disappointment that Myanmar, Thailand and other Association of South East Asian Nation countries included in Obama’s Asia Pivot initiative are left out of the high-profile visit, the unprecedented events that existentially concern U.S. interests in Japan and South Korea provide a valid argument for their inclusion.

Karam Singh SethiKaram Singh Sethi graduated from Connecticut College with a degree in International Relations and Economics in 2012.  He recently completed a Fulbright grant teaching Secondary school English in rural Malaysia.  Besides being adept at squatty-potty and eating-with-hands etiquette, he rehabilitates anxiety driven nail biters.  He reads, writes, and runs but if you want to get on his sweet side take him on the Brooklyn Brewery tour.  He’s been more times than you can count, but his life force has increasingly become free alcohol. 

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