President Barack Obama has said Washington welcomes China’s rise but that engagement with Beijing would not come at the expense of its Asian allies–as Chinese state media greeted his arrival in the region with a broadside accusing the United States of wanting to “cage” the emerging superpower.
The reassuring remarks aimed at Japan and other allies, set against a robust commentary from China’s state news agency Xinhua that also called the United States “myopic,” demonstrate the delicate balancing act Obama faces on a week-long Asia tour.
Obama arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday at the start of a four-nation trip that comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and as the United States urges Japan’s unpredictable neighbor North Korea not to conduct another nuclear test.
Obama, who is making the first full state visit to Japan by a U.S. President since 1996, must assuage worries by Tokyo and other allies that his commitment to their defense in the face of an increasingly assertive China is weak, without hurting vital U.S. ties with Asia’s biggest economy.
Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are also keen to show progress on a two-way trade pact seen as critical to a broader regional deal that would be one of the world’s biggest trade agreements and is central to Obama’s “pivot” of military, diplomatic and trade resources towards Asia.