WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama will visit Asia in April and although his full itinerary has not yet been announced, the Philippines is expected to be on the list.
It makes sense to visit the Philippines, a US ally that was clobbered by Typhoon Yolanda and needs reassurance in the face of Chinese pressure in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) over territorial disputes, said former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in an article on Obama’s forthcoming Asia trip.
He said Japan and Malaysia were also on the list.
Obama was scheduled to visit Asia, including the Philippines, in October 2013 but this was canceled because of a US government shutdown over congressional failure to reach agreement on the national budget.
Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security advisor, said no announcements about the stops on the April trip to Asia have been made yet but “I will say though that the president is committed to going to Japan as a general matter.”
He said a key topic of discussions with Asian leaders would be maritime security.
In the East China Sea, China and Japan are at loggerheads over a group of islands called Senkaku by Tokyo and Diaoyu by Beijing.
In the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, China is involved in territorial disputes among others with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
“If you take an issue like the South China Sea, we believe that there should not be unilateral actions that seek to change facts on the ground or resolve these issues other than through dialogue and through multilateral established processes to adjudicate claims,” Rhodes said in a briefing on Wednesday.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia said the Aquino administration was still awaiting word on Obama’s visit but “we are very hopeful.”
The Filipino community in Washington is abuzz with speculations that Obama, while in the Philippines, may visit Tacloban City, the area hit hardest by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
He did after all mention the typhoon tragedy in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, saying Filipinos greeted US Marines and civilians, the first responders to the disaster area, with words like “we will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America.”
Should President Obama visit Tacloban, as Secretary of State John Kerry did in December, these same sentiments and more will ring in his ear. – Jose Katigbak/STAR Washington bureau