BEIJING, April 24 -- Though China is not included in Mr. Barack Obama's ongoing Asia tour, it is an indispensable topic on the menu of talks for the U.S. president.
Against the backdrop of simmering tension in Asia due to historical feuds and territorial spats, Obama is using his four-nation trip to reassure U.S. allies of Washington's commitment to ramping up engagement in the Asia-Pacific.
However, to ensure stability and prosperity in the region, as Washington has claimed in its "Pivot to Asia" strategy, it is impossible for the United States to skip China.
CHINA ELEMENT OF OBAMA'S TOUR
With a robust economy and dynamic market, China is increasingly important in the Asia-Pacific region and has a stake in almost all aspects of the U.S. rebalancing to Asia strategy.
Obama's visit has been said to have lifted the lid on a bubbling cauldron of regional animosities between Japan and other heavyweights, exposing historical and territorial rifts that Washington can no longer paper over.
Ahead of Obama's arrival in Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 Class-A WWII criminals alongside the nation's war dead are honored. He was followed by 146 Japanese lawmakers who visited the shrine en masse one day later.
The move angered China and South Korea, also a U.S. ally, which put Obama in an embarrassing situation.
Disregarding "disappointment" from the U.S. and outcry from neighbors over the visits, some irresponsible Japanese politicians showed little penitence over Japan's war atrocities in China and other Asian countries, including tens of thousands of "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese military brothels in 1930s and 1940s.
Washington's miscalculation of the complexity of historical grudges in Asian countries could lead to mounting public resentment, as in the case of Justin Bieber, a pop singer who posted a picture online of himself visiting the shrine this week, before later apologizing and deleting the image.
With regards to the nuclear program of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the topic that will dominate Obama's visit to South Korea, China has been playing an important mediator role in soothing regional tensions by holding the Six Party Talks.
As Pyongyang said earlier this month that it is technically ready for a fourth nuclear test, Obama admitted Thursday after meeting with Abe that it is "critically important" for "China's participation in pushing the DPRK in a different direction."
TIME TO COOPERATE WITH BEIJING
Claiming that it will not take sides in the territorial dispute between China and Japan, Washington has increasingly seen Beijing as a constructive partner to work with when implementing its "Pivot to Asia" strategy.
However, it should be mindful of avoiding statements and actions that would mislead some emboldened politicians in Tokyo or Manila to further escalate regional tensions and confront China.
Meanwhile, it's advisable for the United States not to underestimate China's determination to defend its territories.
As outlined by Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping last June, the Pacific Ocean is large enough for the development of the two countries, and each side should respect the core interests of the other.
The United States should reconsider the role of Japan, an increasingly assertive and right-leaning trouble maker with frosty relations with neighbors, in implementing its Asian strategy.
What's more, the reckless politicians of Japan and the Philippines should be pressed by the U.S. side not to make further provocative moves. Instead, they should be urged to commit to sincere dialogues with China to solve disputes and thus secure regional peace and stability.
In a time that calls for ever closer relations between China and the United States, Washington should reconsider the role of its defiant Asian allies.