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2014年4月25日 (金)


April 25, 2014
EDITORIAL: With U.S. ties back on track, Abe must do the same with China, S. Korea

The summit meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama in Tokyo on April 24 was rather unusual.

The meeting was followed by a typical joint news conference, but was not accompanied by the usual joint statement from the two leaders. The absence of a joint statement was due to their failure to reach an agreement in time in the bilateral negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. (The joint statement was released on April 25 just before Obama left Tokyo.)

Typically, such an important agreement is worked out before a bilateral summit through talks between senior government officials of the two countries so that their top leaders can simply endorse the deal in their meeting. The fact that this basic pattern of summit diplomacy didn’t hold this time indicates the two countries have been locked in battles to promote national interests in the trade talks over key issues concerning farm products and automobiles.

As for the area of national security, however, it can probably be said that Abe received a key reassurance from Obama that was close to what he had wanted.

During the joint news conference, Obama clearly stated that the U.S. commitment to Japan’s security under Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to all territories under Japanese administration, including the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

Abe also said Obama had “welcomed and supported” the Japanese government’s security policy initiative to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Although Washington’s position on these issues has been repeatedly expressed by senior members of the Obama administration, the Japanese government sought reaffirmation of the U.S. policies by the president himself in his own words. Tokyo thought Obama’s statements would be an effective warning to Beijing, whose actions have raised tensions in waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Japan placed much importance on this objective in preparatory talks for the Abe-Obama summit.

But the focus of Obama’s remarks during the news conference as a whole was not exactly where Japan had wanted it to be.

“In our discussions, I emphasized with Prime Minister Abe the importance of resolving this issue peacefully," Obama said, "not escalating the situation, keeping the rhetoric low, not taking provocative actions, and trying to determine how both Japan and China can work cooperatively together.”

He also urged Japan and China to take “confidence-building measures.”

While confirming Washington’s firm opposition to any attempt to change the status quo of the Senkaku Islands by force, Obama sent a clear message to both Japan and China calling for greater efforts by both sides to improve their bilateral relationship.

He didn’t forget to add, “We have strong relations with China.”

No matter how passionately Abe rhapsodizes about the bond of security alliance between Japan and the United States, the fact remains that there can be no stability in the Asia-Pacific region as long as there is a deep gulf of mistrust between Japan and China. Neighboring nations also want to see the three major powers of Japan, the United States and China maintain stable relations among them.

Abe’s visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in December delivered a decisive blow to Japan’s already strained ties with China and South Korea and awakened U.S. distrust of his administration.

Now that Abe has put Tokyo’s relations with Washington back on a solid footing, he should be the one to take a first step toward mending Japan’s ties with its neighbors.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 25


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