US President Barack Obama was to welcome new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House yesterday to reinforce a core US alliance at a time of high tension stoked by a Japan-China territorial dispute and a North Korean nuclear test.
Abe is a nationalist and a keen advocate of stronger relations with Washington that have assumed more importance for Tokyo as it has locked horns in recent months with emerging power China over the control of islands in the resource-rich seas between them.
Abe, who arrived on Thursday afternoon and is to leave early today, has been anxious for the Oval Office meeting since he returned to power after a convincing election victory in December for his second stint as prime minister since he resigned for health reasons in 2007 after serving for one year.
On the security issues roiling northeast Asia, the US and Japan are to show solidarity in the face of North Korea’s recent long-range rocket launches and last week’s nuclear test.
More delicate will be how Obama and Abe address Japan’s dispute with China over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan, but administered by the latter, where they are known as the Senkakus. China calls them the Diaoyu Islands (釣魚嶼). China has stepped up patrols into what Japan considers its territorial waters, heightening concern that the dispute could spark a conflict between the world’s second and third-largest economies.
Abe is to seek a reaffirmation of US treaty obligations to help Japan in the event of conflict — spelled out last month by then-US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said the US opposes any unilateral actions seeking to undermine Japan’s administration of the islands.
Obama will likely give that assurance, but tread cautiously. The US wants to avoid a conflict in the region and is wary of alienating Beijing, whose support is needed to pressure North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.