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President Obama visits Asia with North Korea high on the agenda

April 22nd, 2014

“It’s not a geopolitical fad, it’s not a political expediency; it’s about protecting American economic interests, security interests, and continuing to build our people-to-people ties that we’ve had for many decades in the Asia Pacific.”

For Japan, the most critical issue is reconfirming the security alliance at a time when China is making vigorous claims to sovereignty over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which Beijing knows as the Diaoyu archipelago.

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, told a delegation of visiting US politicians on Monday that he hoped his meeting with Mr Obama on Thursday would lead to an even stronger alliance with the US.

The Japanese leader will have been encouraged by comments by Ben Rhodes, the deputy US national security adviser, who reiterated Washington’s commitment to Tokyo by stating, “There should be no question that the United States will always honour its obligations to the defence of Japan.”

The behaviour of North Korea will be the focus of the president’s discussions when he arrives in Seoul, with analysts suggesting that Pyongyang is making preparations to carry out what would be its fourth underground nuclear test.

April 27 marks the 61st anniversary of the signing of the armistice that halted the combat in the Korean War, but left an uneasy peace on the peninsula that remains to this day. North Korea has threatened to carry out a “new kind” of nuclear test – analysts believe it may be the regime’s first plutonium-basaed device – and could very well be keen to time it to coincide with President Obama’s visit.

White House officials have condemned the North’s threats and say they merely demonstrate a lack of willingness to participate in negotiations to reduce tensions in the region.


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