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US President Obama arrives in Japan to begin Asia tour

President Barack Obama has arrived in Japan to begin his Asia tour. The White House has called the trip a "rebalancing" of US foreign policy in which Obama is expected reinforce his country's commitment to the region.

Obama arrived in Tokyo Wednesday evening for the first stop of the US president's trip that will also see him visit South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Obama's three-day stop in Japan, his first visit to the country since 2010, will see him discuss a Pacific trade deal with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. US Trade Representative Michael Froman arrived in Japan earlier in the day as part of last-ditch efforts to create one of the world's biggest trade pacts.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would link dozens of Asia-Pacific nations by eliminating trade barriers and bringing together trade regulations. The deal would cover two-fifths of the world economy and a third of all global trade.

Talks have thus far been stalled by Japan's insistence on protecting politically powerful farm sectors, such as beef. Officials have played down the likelihood a deal will be struck in time for the summit between Abe and Obama on Thursday.

Japan and the US are also set to discuss China's position in the region, including the country's military buildup and territorial claims. In November, China declared an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, which includes the disputed Senkaku Islands that are administrated by Japan. The islets are claimed by China and Taiwan.

Japan also wants assurances that the US will protect Japanese interests in the event of a military escalation.

South Korea, Malaysia stops

After leaving Japan, the Obama will head to South Korea for a meeting with President Park Geun-Hye in Seoul. His visit coincides with increased tension between North and South Korea, after defense officials in Seoul said there was "heightened activity" at a nuclear testing ground in northwest North Korea.

While addressing North Korea's missile programs, the US president will also seek to strengthen ties between South Korea and Japan.

Obama is then due to travel to Malaysia. He will be the first US president to visit the country since Lyndon Johnson, who stopped there in 1966 as part of an Asian tour on the spread of communism.

Obama's visit there is part of US efforts to normalize relations with Malaysia after decades of diplomatic tension. Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking to strengthen trade ties with Washington. US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said this week there was hope the trip would "elevate US-Malaysian relations to a new stage."

The final leg of Obama's Asia tour takes him to the Philippines on April 28. He will meet with President Benigno Aquino and lay a wreath at the World War II cemetery.

dr/hc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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