Obama to make Asia trip including Japan, S. Korea in April

U.S. President Barack Obama will make a trip to Asia including Japan and South Korea in late April in a bid to promote his administration's commitment to the region, the White House said Wednesday.

Obama's trip to Japan, during which he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was arranged as Japan is seeking to demonstrate close bilateral ties in order to better deal with regional issues such as North Korea and a rising China.

Obama and Abe will discuss how to deepen their security and economic ties including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and "expand our cooperation on a range of diplomatic challenges in Asia and globally," the White House said.

Details about Obama's visit to Japan such as the date and whether he will be accommodated as a state guest as proposed by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida have not been decided, a White House official said.

Tokyo and Washington are working on realizing Obama's visit, which will be the first such in three and half years, on April 22 and 23, a Japanese government official said.

In South Korea, Obama will meet with President Park Geun Hye and discuss recent developments in North Korea and efforts to promote denuclearization as well as the bilateral free trade pact, the White House said.

Obama will also visit Malaysia to meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and then go to the Philippines to meet with President Benigno Aquino, it said.

Obama is set to visit Japan as Japanese officials are struggling to minimize the impact of a disagreement over Abe's controversial visit to a war-related shrine in December despite objection by the U.S. side, including Vice President Joe Biden.

The U.S. president pledged in 2011 to focus on the Asia-Pacific region describing U.S. mission there as "a top priority."

But Obama's determination to follow up on the commitment has come into question as it was bogged down with addressing issues related to chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria and Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. government has been critical of Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which is regarded by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism before and during World War II, saying it only destabilizes East Asia.

Bilateral ties between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea had already been strained even before the shrine visit due to territorial disputes and differences over the interpretation of war-related history.

Obama has visited Japan twice since he became U.S. president in 2009.

It will be the first visit to Japan by Obama since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the northeastern region in March 2011 and caused the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Obama cancelled a trip to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei planned for October as he had to deal with the partial government shutdown over budget issues.

Obama last came to Japan in November 2010 to attend a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama. His first visit to Japan as U.S. president was in November 2009.

The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have asked Obama, who was given the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, to visit the cities and meet survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings.