Commentary

What Asians hope Abe will say to Obama

Published: February 14, 3:59 AM
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Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first overseas visit to South-east Asian countries. Very soon he will make the more usual pilgrimage from Tokyo to Washington DC, to meet the American President.

What should he say to President Barack Obama as both begin their new terms in office? On what issues do other Asians hope the two long-standing allies will focus?

The expectation — or fear — is that the conversation will turn to the other Asian giant not in the room: China.

The Obama administration says its pivot to Asia is to engage the most dynamic region in a depressed world. This may be partly so. But it is not only the paranoid in Beijing who believe competition with China has been a factor.

For Japan, the Abe administration is making its own pivot to focus on ASEAN. This comes as Sino-Japanese tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands have boiled over in recent months — with street riots, scrambling jets and incursions at sea.

With such developments, some predict the Obama-Abe conversation will focus on ways to mobilise their long-standing alliance to deal with Beijing. The South China Sea would be a hot topic. Manila — also an American ally — has challenged China and the Abe administration has now promised to supply it with coastal patrol vessels.

With that and the Senkaku-Diaoyu dispute, there is concern that Mr Abe — long seen as hawkish — returns from America with a deputy sheriff’s badge. Asians should hope otherwise. There is an alternative and pressing agenda.

IT’S THE ECONOMY

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