James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Obama Visits Mexico and Costa Rica, Shinzo Abe Visits Russia, Tensions Rise in the East China Sea

by James M. Lindsay
April 26, 2013

Barack Obama meets with Mexican president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office in November (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). Barack Obama meets with Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto in the Oval Office in November (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Barack Obama’s trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to Russia, and rising tensions in the East China Sea.

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The highlights:

  • President Obama is scheduled to take a three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica starting next Thursday. The White House says the trip is intended to “reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America.” The Mexico visit is a standard bilateral that will feature one-on-one conversations with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. The Costa Rica stop will be a multilateral meet-and-greet with Central American heads of state. They are gathering for the Central American Integration System (SICA) summit, which was founded in 1991 as “the institutional framework of regional integration in Central America.” In both Mexico and Costa Rica immigration and economics will top the agenda. Obama had hoped to have good news to deliver on the immigration front, but the prospects remain uncertain that an immigration bill will make it through Congress this year.
  • Obama in not the only world leader traveling next week. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is heading to Russia. It is the first official visit by a Japanese prime minister to Moscow in a decade. Abe will be leading a large delegation of Japanese business executives in a bid to improve economic ties between the two countries. Lurking in the background of the trip, however, is the two countries’ longstanding territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands. Russia seized the four southernmost Kuril islands, which it had previously ceded to Japan, in the waning days of World War II. Japan has not given up hope of getting the islands back, and it is one reason that Japan and Russia have never signed a formal peace treaty ending their World War II hostilities. The fact that the Kurils sit in the middle of rich fishing grounds and atop potentially significant mineral deposits has only hardened the two competing sovereignty claims, which aren’t likely to be reconciled on this trip.
  • While Abe is in Moscow, part of his focus will be on Beijing. Tensions between Japan and China spiked this week after Beijing sent eight government ships into the contested seas around the Senkaku (if you are Japanese) or Diaoyu (if you are Chinese) Islands. Abe responded by vowing to use force if China attempted to land troops on the islands. The spat has presented the White House with difficult diplomatic waters to navigate. It has to find a way to deter but not antagonize Beijing, and reassure but not encourage Tokyo. Easier said than done.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is 93. My Figure of the Week is Enrico Letta. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

Obama’s Trip to Mexico and Costa Rica: In the Washington Post, Enrique Peña Nieto explains his vision for U.S.-Mexican relations. The Huffington Post describes Mexicans’ “cautiously optimistic” response to U.S. immigration reform.  CFR.org has a backgrounder on U.S. immigration. Tico Times predicts that Obama will not commit more U.S. financial aid to Central America during his trip to Costa Rica.

Abe’s Trip to Russia: The Asahi Shimbun describes the agenda for Abe’s trip to Russia with business executives. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides background on the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia. The Japan Times writes that former prime minister Yoshiro Mori advocates flexibility in negotiations to resolve the territorial dispute.

Tensions in the East China Sea: Sheila Smith writes a Contingency Planning Memorandum for “A  Sino-Japanese Clash in the East China Sea.” The New York Times has a map of Japan’s territorial disputes. CNN reports that Chinese and Japanese ships gathered near the Senkaku Islands on Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal writes about how Abe’s nationalist policies raise tensions with China and Korea.

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