U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to visit Hiroshima, where an American atomic bomb killed approximately 140,000 civilians in 1945, is more than a symbolic act. It will entrench Washington's updated relationship with Asia in both American and Japanese thinking.
The alliance between the U.S. and Japan is facing numerous challenges, mainly because of the rise of China. Any gesture that firms up the seven-decade U.S. commitment to Japan will be highly welcome, even without an apology for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Obama's mere presence will have a positive impact on the Japanese, demonstrating that the U.S. remains their most trusted ally in spite of the experiences endured on both sides during World War II.
Concerned by continuing U.S. commitments elsewhere in the world, Japan has been forging strategic and security networks outside the U.S. alliance system, including stronger political and security ties with India and some members of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In particular, Tokyo's security cooperation with Vietnam and the Philippines, which are both in conflict with China over overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, has intensified in a very short time.
Nevertheless, Obama's Asia policy has been more or less successful -- the U.S. presence remains powerful, as does its influence, and his visit to Hiroshima wraps up his presidency in the most positive way. He will be remembered, at least in the foreseeable future, as a president who transformed American foreign policy toward Asia, much as former President Richard Nixon did when he visited China in 1972.
Kavi Chongkittavorn is a senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.