President Obama's Trip to Vietnam and Japan: Five Things to Watch

The president will spend five days in Vietnam and Japan

May 21, 2016, 11:02 AM

— -- President Obama embarks on his tenth trip to Asia Saturday afternoon, a tour that will take him for the first time to two countries once considered bitter foes of the U.S.

The president will spend three days in Vietnam, stopping in the city's capital of Hanoi and the bustling urban center of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. He will then travel to Japan for two days where he will attend the G7 Summit in Ise-Shima and visit Hiroshima, a history-making moment as he becomes the first U.S. president to visit the city.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the trip will highlight the president's commitment to the Asian-Pacific region.

"The Asia rebalance has been a central objective of the president's broader foreign policy and economic policy, rooted in our belief that this largest-emerging market in the world is critical to our future prosperity and also central to a whole host of critical U.S. national security interests as well," Rhodes said.

Here's a look at five things to watch during the president's week-long trip to Vietnam and Japan.

First U.S. President to Hiroshima

The hallmark moment of President Obama’s trip to Asia will be his stop in Hiroshima on Friday. Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit the site nearly 71 years after President Harry Truman decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city in World War II. The president will lay a wreath and make a brief statement at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

The White House has indicated the president won’t apologize for the decision to launch the world’s first nuclear attack, but instead will be forward-looking with his visit, including using it as a reminder of the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

One outstanding item regarding the president’s Hiroshima stop: will he meet with any survivors of the nuclear bombing that killed thousands? The White House has not ruled this out, indicating the president’s schedule has not been finalized.


While Hiroshima will be the marquee moment of the week, another war looms large over the president’s trip to Asia. Obama will visit Vietnam for the first time, becoming the third American president to visit the country since the Vietnam War ended 41 years ago.

President Obama will be accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, who served in Vietnam and later protested the war. The White House says the visit will highlight the remarkable progress the U.S. and Vietnam have made in their relationship, but the remnants of war will be apparent in his stops in Japan and Vietnam.

Balancing The Arms Embargo With Human Rights

In his conversations with Vietnamese officials, President Obama is expected to discuss whether the U.S. will lift the remaining arms embargo in Vietnam.

Rhodes emphasized officials have “not finalized a decision” in regards to ending the embargo. Many are urging the Obama administration not to end the embargo without exerting pressure on Vietnamese officials to end its poor human rights record and political oppression in their Communist country.

Obama’s visit comes one day after the country votes in an election for the 500 seat National Assembly, a tightly controlled selection process that excluded all independent candidates from appearing on the ballot.

China's Territorial Assertions in the South China Sea

The territorial dispute over the South China Sea will be among the key topics President Obama discusses in Vietnam. The administration has become increasingly concerned with China’s artificial island building in the disputed waters, which Vietnam also lays claim to. Lifting the three-decades-long arms embargo could be one way to help bolster Vietnam’s defense system to counter the Chinese.

Promoting the TPP

Part of President Obama’s focus in Asia will be promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade deal facing an uncertain fate in Congress. The deal is part of the president’s “pivot to Asia,” and he plans to push the pact in an entrepreneurship-focused speech at Dreamplex, an open-concept coworking space in Ho Chi Minh City, and in his meetings at the G7 Summit in Japan.

Vietnam’s economy is expected to receive the biggest boost from the TPP. GDP in the country would increase by 10 percent by 2030 as its textiles industry would benefit from lower tariffs, according to a study from the World Bank.

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