7 Days, 4 Countries, 5 Things to Watch As Obama Returns to Asia


“We expect that … we will be able to conclude an agreement,” said National Security Adviser Susan Rice last week. “This remains a very important aspect of our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, one that holds great promise for the countries in the region as well as for the United States.”

A major breakthrough on this trip is not expected, sources say. But Obama will push for new progress, despite deep election-year skepticism from members of his own party and political allies at home.

“The data is in. It’s irrefutable. We know the impact this trade deal would have on jobs. We have seen this movie several times before,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

Some American automakers and labor unions say previous free-trade deals in Asia have done less than expected to boost American exports. Industry lobbyists point to the 2012 Korea free-trade pact as sowing doubt about the latest effort.

Will there be any substantive progress on a TPP deal, and will Obama speak out more forcefully against domestic opposition? It’s worth watching.

“Are we coming to a final point and a mile to go, or are there five miles to go? Not sure,” said one Asian official familiar with the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity.

3. Tribute to U.S. Troops in Asia, Past and Present

With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many Americans may have lost sight of the fact that there are more than 80,000 U.S. troops deployed across the Asia-Pacific region, including 28,500 in South Korea and 38,000 in Japan.

President Obama this week will make a point of honoring U.S. service members and their families in Asia, while implicitly underscoring America’s military commitment to regional security.

In Seoul, Obama will visit the Combined Forces Command – the joint U.S.-South Korean military headquarters -- for a briefing on North Korean provocations and a speech to troops, said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

Later in Malaysia, which is not a treaty ally, Obama is expected to highlight recent military collaboration in the search for flight MH370 as an example of improved bilateral relations.

In the Philippines, Obama will address U.S. and Filipino service members and veterans at Fort Bonifacio “to underscore our deep security cooperation over the years, but also our security cooperation in the current environment in the Asia-Pacific,” Rhodes said.

Before returning to Washington, Obama will also make a poignant visit to the American cemetery in Manila, the final resting place for more than 17,000 U.S. service members after World War II.

4. History-Making Visit to Malaysia

It’s been almost 50 years since a U.S. president set foot in Malaysia. The last was President Johnson in 1966, though President Clinton almost made it there in 1998 until a U.N. showdown with Iraq over weapons inspectors forced a last minute substitution (Vice President Gore went in his place.)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has made improving ties with the U.S. a goal, will roll out the red carpet for Obama. Najib will host a state dinner and cultural visits to sites in Kuala Lumpur, including a stop at the National Mosque and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center.

At Malaya University, Obama will host a town hall meeting with young leaders across Southeast Asia, according to the White House. He will unveil a new initiative aimed at building relationships among those leaders and coordinating ties with the U.S.

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