Japan’s new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in the United States for a White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
Abe, who was elected in December, is seeking to reinforce the longstanding US-Japan alliance at a time of high regional tension stoked by a Japan-China territorial dispute and a North Korean nuclear test.
He arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington where he will meet Obama on Friday.
The two leaders will also discuss economic ties, including an Asian trade deal.
The Obama administration will be gauging Japan’s intent to join a trans-Pacific trade agreement that is under negotiation.
“US President Barack [Obama] remains supportive of the peaceful effort to find diplomatic resolution to outstanding issues of territorial claims“
– Danny Russel, Obama adviser on Asia
Abe plans to appeal to Obama for wider access to cheaper exports of US shale gas, Japanese media reported earlier in the week.
Abe’s office would not confirm those reports.
Abe took office in December pledging to boost the economy by restoring Japan’s export competitiveness, while at the same time stimulating demand at home through higher public works spending.
He also has promised to push ahead with politically tough reforms needed to sustain growth in the longer term, though such efforts have not made much headway in the past.
Abe is the fifth Japanese prime minister during Obama’s time in office.
Danny Russel, Obama’s top adviser on Asia, said the US wanted a diplomatic solution to ease tensions but also reiterated a veiled warning to China over contested islands in the East China Sea.
Obama “remains supportive of the peaceful efforts to find diplomatic resolution to outstanding issues of territorial claims,” Russel told reporters.
Russel said that the US wanted to avoid “miscalculation” between China and Japan, saying that the world’s second and third largest economies were leading a region that is “the driver of growth and dynamism”.
Abe’s visit comes one month after then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton stepped up the tone, warning Beijing not to challenge Japan’s control over the islands known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.
The remarks by Clinton, a forceful advocate for a greater US focus on Asia, triggered by a reprimand from China but heartened Abe’s government which has counted on a united front with the US.
|Growing tensions between Japan and China over a territorial dispute are expected to top agenda [Reuters]|
In an interview with The Washington Post ahead of his trip, Abe voiced hope that the US alliance – and the presence of 47,000 American troops on Japanese soil under a security treaty – would send a message to China.
“It is important for us to have them recognise that it is impossible to try to get in their way by coercion or intimidation,” Abe said.
“In that regard, the Japan-US alliance, as well as the US presence, would be critical.”
China contests Japan’s historical claims in the area and voiced anger after Japan last year nationalised the islands, a move Abe’s predecessor said was meant to avert a more provocative proposal.
Officials said that the two leaders would also look to show a common front on North Korea, which carried out its third nuclear test on February 12 despite pressure form virtually all nations including its main ally China.
Abe, who previously served as prime minister from 2006-7, has throughout his career been known as a “hawk” on North Korea and has been hesitant over periodic attempts by Washington to reach out to the communist state.