- Language Tips
Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party's leader and next Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media at the parliament in Tokyo on Tuesday. Abe said he has asked Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa to consider establishing a 2 percent inflation goal. Toru Hanai / Reuters
Meeting with Obama offers chance for both sides to boost defense ties
Japan's prime minister-designate Shinzo Abe confirmed on Tuesday he will meet US President Barack Obama during his first official visit abroad in January.
At the meeting, Abe will call for a tighter bilateral alliance to maintain a regional "power balance".
Observers said the landslide victory by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday's general election has given Japan and the US a chance to boost diplomatic and defense cooperation to guard their respective interests in the Asia-Pacific region.
Abe said during a meeting with Japan's powerful business lobby, the Japan Business Federation, the two leaders will exchange views on issues of common concern and other international affairs.
The hawkish LDP leader spoke to Obama earlier in the day, and mentioned China's rise as well as the "increasingly serious security environment" in the East Asia region, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.
Abe, due to take over as prime minister on Dec 26, told Obama that Japan is willing to shoulder the duty of avoiding a breakdown in the "power balance" in the Asia-Pacific region.
Yuan Peng, an expert on US studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Abe's signals were sent in the context of the Obama administration seeking "rebalancing" in the Asia-Pacific region.
LDP administrations' ties with Washington have been traditionally closer than those of the outgoing Democratic Party of Japan's cabinet, Yuan said.
China surpassed Japan in annual GDP growth in 2010 to become the second-largest economy globally and top in East Asia, an event viewed as "breaking the long-lasting order led by Washington and Tokyo" in the Asia-Pacific region, Yuan said.
He said the "perfect timing" for Abe's visit, immediately after his triumph at the polls and Obama winning a second term, provides an opportunity to provide reciprocal support for each other, which means Japan can share the defense burden for the US.
Yukio Hatoyama, who became prime minister following the DPJ's landmark win in 2009, resigned the following year after clashing with the United States over the status of a controversial military base in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture.
Meng Xiangqing, deputy director of the Strategic Research Institute at the National Defense University of the PLA, said the US-Japan military alliance has suffered challenges during DPJ administrations, as the two allies have differed and alienated each other on issues including the relocation of US forces based in Japan.
But ties between the two warmed with the US response to last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The Obama administration enjoyed strong ties with outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who supported joining talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a US-backed trade pact.
Meng said Japan hopes to prompt greater support from theUS on diplomacy and defense to rein in and guard against China, and Abe "is targeting Washington's clearer stance in its (Japan's) territorial dispute with China".
James Schoff, a former Pentagon official who is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP Abe's efforts on defense could be "a net benefit for everyone" if Japan complements the US.
"But if the focus is more toward building up offensive capabilities vis-a-vis China, that's going to probably create more problems than it's worth from a US perspective," he said.
Sino-Japanese ties soured in September after the Japanese government made an illegal purchase of the Diaoyu Islands, which have belonged to China for centuries.
Feng Zhaokui, a Japanese studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the prevailing "strategic anxiety" in the Japanese political arena is behind Tokyo's strategic dependence on Washington, its top ally.
"Both the Japanese government and media have overreacted to Chinese naval vessels legally sailing in international waters near Japan, as well as Chinese airplanes and ships patrolling around the Diaoyu Islands," Feng said.
The lack of trust between Japan and China, especially on defense, has led to Tokyo frequently relying on Washington's promises to contain China over the islands dispute, Feng added.
AFP and Xinhua contributed to this story.
(China Daily 12/19/2012 page12)