First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to sit out President Obama’s four-nation Asia tour is spurring widespread consternation in Japan, fueling questions about America’s commitment to the country during a trip that was meant to reassure America’s Asian allies.
According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, the Japanese are particularly unnerved because Michelle just spent a celebratory week touring China, Japan’s ancient enemy whose aggressive tactics helped prompt President Obama’s Asia trip in the first place.
Japan is the first stop on the trip. Obama landed there this evening – Japan time – and had dinner with the Japanese prime minister.
From the piece:
Japan is back to openly fretting about its place on America’s priority list – particularly in comparison to rising rival China.
The reason? When Obama arrives Wednesday evening, he’ll disembark Air Force One solo – without first lady Michelle Obama. Obama will be the first US president to come to Japan on a state visit in 18 years, but never mind: Michelle’s absence has thrown Tokyo into a tizzy.
Media commentators, social media discussions, academics, even some officials, named and unnamed, are wringing their hands over Mrs. Obama’s decision to sit out not just Japan but her husband’s entire eight-day Asia trip, which will also take in South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
But for most of those doing the chattering, Mrs. Obama’s absence is a woeful sign of Japan’s retreat from the top tier of America’s allies . . .
To the Japanese, the sight of Michelle jumping rope with Chinese kids, feeding pandas, trying out tai-chi, and meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, was more than insult added to injury. It was proof of China’s ascendency to the top rung of America’s strategic priorities and Japan’s fall to second class.
Michelle loves to travel on fun-filled voyages, like her semi-tourist trips to South Africa and China and her lavish vacation in Spain, but she often seems to miss important presidential travel where her absence may be taken as a slight. Her China journey last month was in part a way to make up for her absence when China’s first lady visited California last year.
She also skipped her husband’s trip to Belgium, Italy, The Vatican, and Saudi Arabia in March.
It’s not at all clear to me why Michelle is not on the Asia trip. I don’t really remember first ladies in the past being absent very often from such important diplomatic excursions.
What’s she doing instead? Well, not completely clear, but of course she’s got a DNC fundraiser scheduled for Thursday.
Mrs. Obama enjoys many perks and opportunities associated with her office. Making sure key allies aren’t miffed is part of the deal.