Obama hosts Japan's PM for talks on financial crisis

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso (pictured) will be the first foreign leader to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington as the men at the helm of the world's two largest economies seek out solutions to the global financial crisis.


AFP - Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso was set Tuesday to be President Barack Obama's first foreign guest as the leaders of the world's two largest economies plot action on the global financial crisis.

Aso is also expected to discuss plans for a major donors conference in Japan aimed at bringing political and economic stability to Pakistan, a key focus for the Obama administration as it reviews strategy in South Asia.

The summit, slated for Tuesday morning, is expected to showcase close Japan-US relations as Obama moves quickly to ease fears in the close Asian ally that his administration would tilt toward a rising China.

The White House invitation from the popular new president comes at a welcome time for Aso, who is reeling from rock-bottom approval ratings at home.

"The world is facing a mountain of urgent issues such as the global financial crisis, terrorism and environmental problems. But because the major economic crisis came, many nations are left unable to deal with them," Aso, who arrived late Monday, said in Tokyo before departure.

"I think it is most important for the United States and Japan to reach a conclusion together with the two countries joining hands to cope with long-term problems," Aso said.

"I hope to have a shared understanding (with Obama) on global issues, not just bilateral ones, so that we can deal with them appropriately," Aso said.

Japan also hopes to convey its worries over North Korea, as Tokyo puts a high diplomatic priority on resolving a row over the kidnappings of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang spies during the 1970s and 1980s.

Aso will spend less than 24 hours in Washington and lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, a sign of how far relations have transformed between the World War II adversaries.

The United States is Japan's main ally and stations more than 40,000 troops in the country.

But Japanese policymakers had initially been uneasy about the Democratic administration.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during the presidential campaign that the United States and China would be "the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century."

But Clinton paid her first foreign visit to Tokyo where she said last week: "The bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan is a cornerstone in our efforts around the world."

While Aso's visit is expected to be largely about symbolism, he could use the occasion to voice US allies' concerns about protectionist sentiment in the United States.

"Prime Minister Aso will say that Japan will resolutely fight all protectionism," said Kazuo Kodama, the press secretary of Japan's foreign ministry.

Japan, Canada and the European Union all complained when the US Congress drafted a bill that said infrastructure projects designed to kick-start the US economy could only use US-made manufactured materials.

But after appeals by Obama, it was later watered down to say that such procurement could only take place in a manner consistent with Washington's international treaty obligations.

Aso, a former foreign minister, has recently engaged in high-profile diplomacy, last week paying the first visit by a Japanese leader since World War II to Russia's Sakhalin island which was partially controlled by Tokyo until 1945.

He has also held a number of telephone talks, including with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak in preparation for his trip to Washington and the London financial summit to be held in April.

But even if Aso hopes Obama's popularity would rub off, the premier remains under intense pressure at home after a series of political problems including the resignation of his finance minister for appearing drunk at a major international meeting.

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