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US and Japan agree to strengthen alliance

4 min

US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed on the need to strengthen their alliance during a summit in Tokyo Friday, on Obama's first stop in his Asian tour.


AFP - Barack Obama insisted on Friday that the United States was a "Pacific" power and vowed to deepen engagement in the region as he set foot in Asia for the first time as US president.

"The United States will strengthen our alliances, build new partnerships and we will be part of multilateral efforts and regional institutions that advance regional security and prosperity," he said in Tokyo as he launched his four-nation tour.

"The alliance between the United States and Japan is a foundation for security and prosperity, not just for our two countries, but for the Asian-Pacific region," said Obama at a press conference alongside Japan's centre-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The US president's trip, just over a year after he won the election to the White House, is designed to shore up US power in a region increasingly dominated by rising giant China.

Obama leaves a clutch of domestic crises behind as he seeks to counter charges that US influence has frayed in Asia, with Washington distracted by its deep economic slump and the sapping wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Travelling without his wife Michelle, Obama will meet many regional leaders for the first time at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Singapore.

He will also become the first US president to sit down with all 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including US foe Myanmar.

Obama will then head to China in the three-day centrepiece of his tour, with top global security issues, along with trade and currency differences, on the agenda, before wrapping up his trip in South Korea.

In Japan, where a new government took power two months ago, both sides are seeking to smooth over a row on US bases and stress shared goals on climate change, the Afghanistan war and nuclear weapons.

Obama said he and Hatoyama had agreed to work together towards a nuclear-weapons-free world.

A visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the cities bombed by the United States in World War II, "is something that would be meaningful to me" during his presidency, he added.

Hatoyama, who, after ending half a century of conservative political domination, has vowed that Japan will be more assertive in its US alliance.

He has said he may scrap an unpopular plan to build a new US military base on the southern Okinawa island, and that he will end a naval refuelling mission that has since 2001 supported the US campaign in Afghanistan.

The United States still has 47,000 troops in Japan, a legacy of its post-war occupation, most of them on Okinawa, where many residents oppose the US military presence.

Stressing humanitarian aid over military support, Hatoyama's government this week pledged five billion dollars in assistance for Afghanistan to help stabilise the war-torn country that is Obama's biggest foreign policy challenge.

Hatoyama, despite a more assertive stance towards the superpower, has voiced admiration for Obama and stressed similarities between their Democratic parties, which both defeated conservative governments on a promise of change.

The leaders were expected to agree to joint efforts to battle climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons, including the threat posed by North Korea which has in the past test-fired missiles across the Japanese islands.

Japan's top government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano said the summit would be "an opportunity to enhance relations in trust between our prime minister and the president. That's our top priority.

"At the same time, we would like to reach concrete agreements. The environment and economic issues, as well as our long-term perspective for Japan-US relations will be on the agenda."

A senior Obama administration official said the president was sensitive to the dynamics of the transition of power in Japan.

"There is plenty of experience in the US-Japan partnership with transitions in Washington, there is a lot less experience... in Tokyo. A historic transition has occurred in Japan and it is still under way."

Various street rallies were staged in Tokyo on Friday, including a small anti-US demonstration, but they passed off peacefully under the watchful eye of the some 16,000 police deployed to ensure security during Obama's visit.

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