Obama is about to begin his four-nation Asia tour. Although China is not included, China's shadow is present throughout the trip. The sovereignty clash surrounding the Diaoyu Islands between China and Japan is getting bigger, and although diplomatic channels between the ordinary folk of China and Japan remain open, there are no indications of a thaw in China-Japan relations. Before Obama visited Japan, Japan gained U.S. support when it moved to lift its ban on collective self-defense. Japanese Prime Minister Abe expressed that he “felt that he had more clout.”*
The high-standards reception for Obama by Japan has only one goal: to request a strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance and ultimately to clearly and definitely place the Diaoyu Islands under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty's coverage through a public announcement. Coping with the increase in Chinese military power as well as China's strong appeals to sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands have become the core diplomatic issues in Japanese pleas to the U.S. Unfortunately, the Japanese Cabinet's Internal Minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited the Yasukuni Shrine on April 12, casting a diplomatic shadow over Obama's visit to Japan. The U.S. Department of State issued a statement asking that Japan “work with their neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue.”
U.S. Media Sowing Discord in U.S.-China Relations
Predictably, the U.S. will not support Abe on historical issues, but will strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance to comfort Japan. However, the U.S. will not give overwhelming support to Japan on the Diaoyu Islands issue. The Diaoyu Islands has become America’s strategic tool to arbitrate between the two biggest major powers in Asia. The separation of the right of sovereignty and the right of administration is more in line with core U.S. interests in East Asia.
Obama's visit to Korea is mainly to mediate Japan-Korea relations, so as to strengthen cooperation between American allies in Northeast Asia and increasingly keep China in check. But it can be seen from the U.S.-Japan-Korea summit brokered by the U.S. in The Hague, Netherlands that Korea has “given face” to Obama, but has also left Prime Minister Abe in an awkward position — President Park Geun-hye treated Prime Minister Abe coldly, without any interaction. Due to the visit to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese Cabinet officials, Obama increased the difficulty of reconciling Japan-Korea relations and has provided an opportunity for China and Korea to counter Japan together.
It has been more than a month since Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370 lost contact, but though “the plane has sunk into the depths of the oceans,”* the truth remains vague. This event has put Malaysia in the global spotlight, as the plane was half-filled with Chinese passengers, and the amount of rescue resources poured in by China was also a first.
Of course, the U.S. is also one of the countries involved in search and rescue, and is also responsible — the lost plane was manufactured by the U.S. company Boeing. As the event develops, U.S. public opinion changed suddenly from accusations of misinformation against Malaysia to accusations against Chinese search and rescue operations.
Mainstream media, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, either accused China of providing the wrong clues and misguiding search and rescue operations or cast doubts over Chinese search and rescue efforts. On the eve of Obama's visit to Malaysia, this confusion by U.S. public opinion has inevitably been suspected of sowing discord between China-Malaysia relations.
The U.S. Should Straighten Out China-U.S. Relations
The last stop is the Philippines. U.S. support for this anti-China partner is much more definite. The Philippines obtained U.S. support in diplomatic public relations and a series of actions in the China-Philippines controversy over the Spratly Islands. Before Obama visits the Philippines, the last round of negotiations between the two on military cooperation has been carried out, and the U.S. will increase the number of troops based in the Philippines. In the South China Sea, every confrontation between China and the Philippines is actually a game of chess between the two major powers, China and the U.S. Of course, every one of Obama's stops is inseparable from the TPP.
To make promises to its allies and also build a new type of relationship between superpowers with China, the United States’ Asian policy is paradoxical and divided. The U.S. must understand that in order to plan and operate in Asia, the first thing to do is to straighten out China-U.S. relations.
*Editor's note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.