- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2014

President Obama pledged Thursday that the U.S. would come to Japan’s defense if China further threatens a disputed chain of islands, but said he isn’t drawing another “red line” on possible military action.

At a press conference in Tokyo, Mr. Obama said the U.S. is bound by the terms of a 1952 treaty with Japan to come to its defense if the territory is threatened.

“The treaty between the United States and Japan preceded my birth, so this isn’t a red line that I’m drawing,” Mr. Obama said. “Our position is not new. We do not believe [the islands] should be subject to change unilaterally. The treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.”

China has raised tensions in the region by asserting a claim over the uninhabited territory, known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands.

After a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of his weeklong tour of Asia, Mr. Obama said the boundary dispute with China must be resolved peacefully.

“We have strong relations with China,” Mr. Obama said. “We want to continue to encourage the peaceful rise of China. But we have also emphasized all of us have responsibilities to maintain basic rules of the road and international order. My hope is that China will continue to engage with us.”

On North Korea, Mr. Obama said reports that Pyongyang is preparing for another nuclear weapons test shows the regime is “very dangerous.”

“We have to make sure we guard against any provocations getting out of hand,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said he’s still hopeful of reaching agreement with Japan on a far-reaching trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, although a final deal isn’t likely to be signed on this trip.

Mr. Abe said Mr. Obama’s visit was a testament to the president’s “rebalancing” policy toward Asia.

“This greatly contributes to regional peace and prosperity,” Mr. Abe said.

Mr. Obama also met with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace. The president told them that he didn’t have any gray hairs when they last met in November 2009.

“You have a very hard job,” the emperor said.

Four years ago, Mr. Obama was criticized in America for bowing deeply to the emperor. On Thursday morning, the president bowed more casually.

As Mr. Obama began a weeklong tour of Asia Wednesday, anti-U.S. protesters in the Philippines clashed with police over the president’s scheduled visit and a pact that will beef up U.S. military forces there.

Riot policemen wielding truncheons and shields sprayed protesters with water from a fire truck to push them away from the heavily fortified U.S. embassy compound in Manila. A police officer was punched in the face in the melee but no arrests were made.

Mr. Obama on Friday arrives in South Korea on Friday, which is reeling from the ferry disaster that has left more than 300 dead or missing, with the vast majority of the victims students from a high school near the capital of Seoul. The tragedy has consumed South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the lead-up to Mr. Obama’s visit and could distract from the security and economic agenda she had been expected to highlight during her meetings with the U.S. president.

White House officials said Mr. Obama did not plan to change his schedule in South Korea as a result of the disaster. But the president probably will balance his expected statements — warnings against North Korean nuclear provocations and calls to lower tensions in regional territorial disputes — with words of condolence for the ferry victims and the people of South Korea.

Ahead of his trip, Mr. Obama said he planned to reaffirm that “our commitment to South Korea is unwavering in good times and in bad.”

This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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