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Strengthen Japan-US alliance to boost Asia stability
Publication Date : 25-02-2013
The high expectations the US government holds for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became clear during his visit to Washington. To live up to the US trust placed in him, the prime minister should restore the vitality of Japan's politics and economy.
Abe and US President Barack Obama held their first talks at the White House and agreed to further strengthen the Japan-US alliance.
"The US-Japan alliance is the central foundation for our regional security, and so much of what we do in the [Asia-]Pacific region," Obama said.
Abe replied that he wants to declare the strong bond of the Japan-US alliance has been restored completely.
Cooperation on energy
Asia has many destabilising factors, such as China and North Korea. To maintain peace and prosperity in this part of the world, Japan and the United States must properly play their respective roles based on the robust, stable bilateral alliance that is "public property" of the region.
Japan-US ties became disoriented while Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations held power for more than three years. Seemingly going hand-in-hand with this, Japan's relations with China and South Korea also deteriorated.
The Obama administration apparently believes that restoring US relations with Japan under the Abe administration would bring greater stability to the entire Asian region and benefit its own strategy that gives greater priority to Asia.
The two leaders issued a joint statement on Japan's possible participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement negotiations. Abe and Obama confirmed "it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations," though they maintained the basic principle that all goods would be subject to the negotiations.
Before his visit to the United States, Abe reiterated he would uphold his Liberal Democratic Party's election pledge that the party opposes joining the TPP talks as long as it mandates all tariffs must be eliminated without exception.
The latest Japan-US agreement, which allows Abe to maintain his pledge and join the TPP talks, carries great significance.
TPP participation, which will enable Japan to harness the vitality of emerging Asian economies, is expected to become a major pillar for the growth strategy of the Abe administration's "Abenomics" economic policy and help the recovery of the nation's economy.
However, some LDP members and agricultural organisations remain strongly opposed to the TPP. Abe must exercise leadership and carefully explain the aims of the trade pact to calibrate opinions within the country as soon as possible to make Japan's participation in the agreement a reality.
The participation of Japan, the world's third-largest economy, in the TPP will have advantages for the United States, too. Formation of a free trade area featuring the Japan-US partnership will have the effect of putting pressure on emerging China.
During their meeting, Abe asked Obama to promptly approve US exports of shale gas to Japan. The president replied that his government always takes the importance of Japan as its ally into consideration.
Some observers said restrictions on shale gas exports could be lifted as early as March, opening a way for Japan to procure cheap natural gas.
Abe also stressed that he would review the policy set under the DPJ-led government to shut down all of Japan's nuclear reactors by the end of the 2030s.
It is important that Japan and the United States cooperate extensively on economic issues, including energy and nuclear policies.
Increase pressure on N. Korea
In the security field, Abe explained that he would proactively tackle such issues as a revision of the National Defence Programme Guidelines, clarifying whether the nation can exercise its right to collective self-defence, and reviewing the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation.
All of these issues are essential for reinforcing the substance of the Japan-US alliance. We hope the government gives priority to these issues and steadily achieves tangible results.
The two leaders agreed to proceed with a plan to relocate the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district in Nago, also in the prefecture, based on an agreement reached by the Japanese and US governments.
Although the Okinawa prefectural government insists the air station should be relocated outside the prefecture, the Henoko plan is the shortest way to reduce the burdens of communities that currently host the base. The government must steadfastly persuade people involved in this matter to support this option.
As for North Korea's recent nuclear test, Abe and Obama confirmed such provocations cannot be tolerated, and that North Korea should not be rewarded for these actions.
While both leaders agreed to seek the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution imposing additional sanctions on Pyongyang, they also agreed to consider sanctions independently enforced by such parties as Japan and the United States.
After North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, the administration of then US President George W. Bush cut a deal in which Pyongyang said it would abandon its nuclear facilities and Washington removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea should not receive any such benefit for conducting its third nuclear test this year.
Form intl tie-up on Senkakus
Although the Security Council should adopt an effective sanctions resolution, China has shown a cautious stance. It is important that ways to apply "pressure", other than a Security Council resolution, be considered under the initiative of Tokyo, Washington and Seoul.
During a bilateral foreign ministerial meeting held after the Abe-Obama meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in reference to Japan-China relations, expressed a view that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the Japan-US Security Treaty and fall under the scope of US defence obligations to Japan.
We welcome Kerry's adherence to the stance of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.
Japan, for its part, should calmly address this issue without being rattled by such provocations as the use of fire-control radar by Chinese forces. At the same time, Japan should strengthen the warning and surveillance operations conducted by the Self-Defence Forces and the Japan Coast Guard. To urge China to exercise self-restraint in its saber-rattling, Japan must deepen cooperation with the United States and other nations concerned.