China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

Kurt Camp­bell, chair­man of the Asia Group and as­sis­tantsec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific af­fairs from 2009 to 2013, had ac­com­pa­nied Obama on sev­eral Asian trips. He in­ter­preted the trip to Viet­nam and Hiroshima as not about China, but more about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with na­tions of two ma­jor wars.

“The Sec­ond World War and the Viet­nam War are two ex­traor­di­nar­ily dif­fi­cult is­sues that stir a lot of emo­tions in the US,” he said.

It was Obama’s first trip to Viet­nam and to Hiroshima, where the US mil­i­tary dropped its first atomic bomb on Aug 6, 1945.

Camp­bell de­scribed it as an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult re­bal­anc­ing act for Obama in many places.

“This can’t be an apol­ogy tour. This can’t be sort of re­sist­ing his­tor­i­cal fact. It can’t be sweep­ing un­der the table what tran­spired in Viet­nam,” he said.

While more than 58,000 US mil­i­tary per­son­nel died dur­ing the Viet­nam War in the 1960s and early 1970s, the death toll of Viet­namese sol­diers and civil­ians was es­ti­mated at 3 mil­lion.

It is be­lieved that more than 1,600 US mil­i­tary ser­vice­men never re­turned from that war. And their rel­a­tives have pushed Obama to de­mand Viet­nam’s help in ac­count­ing for them.

For Viet­nam, the wel­com­ing crowds out­side the street eatery masked an­other bit­ter war legacy. Tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese over three gen­er­a­tions are still liv­ing with the ef­fects of ex­po­sure to the her­bi­cide Agent Orange, SkyNews quoted Viet­namese au­thor­i­ties as say­ing.

US mil­i­tary sprayed around 12 mil­lion gal­lons of the toxic her­bi­cide across the coun­try dur­ing the war. The vic­tims also in­cluded US mil­i­tary who re­turned from the war.

“We want a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with Viet­nam. We also want a recog­ni­tion of the tragedy of nu­clear weapons and our de­sire to di­min­ish their role in global pol­i­tics,” Camp­bell said.

Af­ter at­tend­ing the G7 sum­mit on Thurs­day and Fri­day in Ise-Shima in Ja­pan, Obama will be­come the first US pres­i­dent to pay a brief visit on Fri­day to the Hiroshima Peace Me­mo­rial, also known as the Atomic Bomb Dome.

The two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki killed some 200,000 peo­ple, mostly civil­ians, dur­ing and af­ter the ex­plo­sions. The New York Times re­ported on Wed­nes­day that a group of South Kore­ans plan to protest dur­ing Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. Among the peo­ple killed by the atomic bombs, some 40,000 to 50,000 were Kore­ans who had been taken to Hiroshima or Na­gasaki against their will as forced la­bor­ers, or had set­tled in the cities af­ter flee­ing de­pri­va­tion in their oc­cu­pied home­land.

In a state­ment this week, the Korean sur­vivors said the US would have moral author­ity only af­ter it apol­o­gized for the “orig­i­nal sin” of drop­ping the bombs and paid repa­ra­tions to in­no­cent vic­tims.

In sur­veys, most Japanese have not de­manded an apol­ogy from Obama, cit­ing that Ja­pan started the war. Some wor­ried that a de­mand for an apol­ogy might have forced Obama to can­cel the trip.

In­side the US, vet­er­ans and mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans in­sisted that Obama should not apol­o­gize be­cause drop­ping the bombs was nec­es­sary to shorten the war and fore­stall an in­va­sion of the Japanese is­land of Kyushu, which could have led to many more US ca­su­al­ties.

Obama and other US of­fi­cials have em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of look­ing to the fu­ture. In his re­marks at Hiroshima, he will con­tinue to pro­mote his 2009 vi­sion of a nu­clear free world.

Michael Green, se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent for Asia and the Ja­pan Chair at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS), said that mes­sage will not be un­pop­u­lar in Hiroshima, but he is not sure about the Japanese and South Korea gov­ern­ments which are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about nu­clear weapons sys­tems in the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea.

Cheng Li, di­rec­tor of the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, noted that Obama has been work­ing hard in the past two years to rec­on­cile with old en­e­mies and pass­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) to make both part of his pres­i­den­tial legacy.

That rec­on­cil­ing in­cluded restora­tion of a diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship with Cuba on July 20, 2015, af­ter a hia­tus of 54 years, Obama’s trip to Cuba in March of this year, and im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Iran last year with the nu­clear agree­ment be­tween Iran and the P5+1, the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil plus Ger­many. meet­ing and try to con­clude the agree­ment by the end of this year.

While some Chi­nese of­fi­cials and ex­perts on China ex­pressed con­cern over the pos­si­ble neg­a­tive im­pact of TPP on China, much of the at­ten­tion on Obama’s trip this week has been on the lift­ing of the US arms em­bargo on Viet­nam and Obama’s rhetoric re­gard­ing the South China Sea.

Su Hao, a pro­fes­sor of Asi­aPa­cific stud­ies at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity, told China Daily that it is ob­vi­ous that the US aims to con­tain China by tak­ing ad­van­tage of Hanoi’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with Bei­jing. “Viet­nam is also seek­ing sup­port from coun­tries out­side the re­gion to ex­ert pres­sure on China over the dis­putes,” Su said.

Mur­ray Hiebert, a se­nior fel­low of the South­east Asia pro­gram at CSIS, said the Viet­namese have done some win­dow shop­ping, “but in the end they find Amer­i­can equip­ment very ex­pen­sive, and the process of buy­ing it very rig­or­ous. It’s cheaper and eas­ier buy­ing it from the Rus­sians’’.

De­spite the lift­ing of the arms ban, it must be ap­proved by the US Congress, where some mem­bers on the left op­pose it, cit­ing what they say is Viet­nam’s prob­lem­atic hu­man rights record.

Li, of Brook­ings, doesn’t see Obama’s trip as essen­tially about China. He said that the US re­bal­anc­ing to Asia strat­egy might be partly aimed at China, but it is not to con­tain China be­cause it is im­pos­si­ble to con­tain China.

“On China, Obama does not want to evoke ma­jor trou­ble. That is why he has been meet­ing top Chi­nese lead­ers quite of­ten,” Li said.

Camp­bell also noted that Obama’s trip is not part of a pin­cer move­ment aimed at China, cit­ing that Obama only had one bi­lat­eral meet­ing dur­ing the fourth Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton in early April and that was with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

“Later this year, we’ll have a very im­por­tant sum­mit be­tween the US and China,” he said, re­fer­ring to the G20 sum­mit in Hangzhou, China, in Septem­ber.

Obama, who spent his child­hood years in In­done­sia, has been the US pres­i­dent who has made the most trips to Asia. The Septem­ber trip to China for the G20 sum­mit and then to Laos for the 11th East Asia Sum­mit will be his 11th and last trip there as pres­i­dent.

Re­la­tions be­tween China, Ja­pan, Viet­nam and the US are com­pli­cated and of­ten emo­tional, partly due to mar­itime ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes be­tween China and Ja­pan and China and Viet­nam es­ca­lat­ing in re­cent years.

Many Chi­nese be­lieve it’s the US that has been stir­ring up ten­sions to ad­vance its own agenda in the re­gion in the wake of a fast-ris­ing China.

Obama’s cur­rent Asia trip comes at a sen­si­tive time as an ar­bi­tra­tion court at The Hague is ex­pected to rule on the Philip­pine case on South China Sea in the com­ing weeks. China has not par­tic­i­pated in and has op­posed the ar­bi­tra­tion from the be­gin­ning and re­peat­edly ex­pressed that it wants to solve the dis­pute bi­lat­er­ally with the Philip­pines through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Newly elected Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who will as­sume of­fice on June 30, has been re­garded a mod­er­ate on the South China Sea is­sue, com­pared with the soon de­part­ing Benigno Aquino III.

The new Viet­namese lead­er­ship, elected in early April, is also viewed as less hos­tile to China than their pre­de­ces­sors.


Hua Chun­y­ing, spokes­woman, For­eign Min­istry In­for­ma­tion De­part­ment Pres­i­dent Obama shakes hands with Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe dur­ing a press con­fer­ence af­ter a bi­lat­eral meet­ing dur­ing the 2016 Ise-Shima G7 Sum­mit in Shima, Ja­pan, on Wed­nes­day.

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