Japan's Abe seeks Obama's support in dispute with China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes a meeting with US President Barack Obama will breathe new life into a key alliance at a time of heightened tensions across Asia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 5:33am

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets US President Barack Obama this week for the first time since taking power, he will seek to breathe new life into a key alliance at a time of heightened tensions across Asia.

Abe will be keen to get the reassurance of strong US support during a visit to Washington that comes amid an escalating row with China over disputed islands, and in the same month that North Korea carried out its third nuclear test.

While Abe is the fifth Japanese prime minister that Obama will have met as US president, he has struck a starkly different tone to his predecessors, pledging to make the alliance his top foreign-policy priority.

In an interview with The Washington Post before the trip, Abe said a tighter alliance with the United States would send a message to Beijing in a tense row over the East China Sea islands.

"It is important for us to have [China} recognise that it is impossible to try to get their way by coercion or intimidation," Abe said. "In that regard, the Japan-US alliance, as well as the US presence, would be critical."

It is important for us to have [China} recognise that it is impossible to try to get their way by coercion 

Territorial tensions rose sharply in September when Tokyo nationalised some of the disputed island chain - known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan - setting off huge protests across China and a consumer boycott of Japanese brands that hurt exporters as Abe's government strives to stoke growth in the world's third-largest economy.

"Top of their agenda will be to reaffirm the Japan-US alliance that was badly strained by DPJ administrations," said Tomoaki Iwai, political science professor at Nihon University, referring to the Democratic Party of Japan, which ruled for three years.

Washington insiders say the White House will continue to urge cool heads in the row over the Japanese-controlled islands.

Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party swept to victory in December, has in mind a plan to boost military co-operation across the Pacific. He argues that Japan needs to reinterpret its pacifist constitution to permit "collective defence", and allow its soldiers to use force to protect US troops in need, Iwai said.

Abe's slant on the issue is welcomed by many in Washington, who have long called for Japan to pull more of its own weight in a very one-sided security alliance. The allies are also keen to work together in the international response to North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations.

Elsewhere, the Americans would like progress on Japan's ratification of the Hague Convention, a treaty aimed at returning children abducted by one parent who flees abroad after the breakdown of an international marriage. Japan is the only major industrialised nation that has not signed the 1980 convention, despite years of promises.


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