Okinawa, surplus, and Koreas to dominate U.S. summit

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and U.S. President Bill Clinton are expected to reaffirm their commitment to further strengthen bilateral relations, especially in the security field, when they meet April 25 in Washington.

Hashimoto has fulfilled his pledge to the United States to create a legal basis for extending land leases for U.S. military installations in Okinawa in time for his visit to Washington. In the economic field, the recent upturn in Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. is a matter of concern for Washington. Although some sectoral trade issues remain, such as in aviation, shipping services, telecommunications and automobiles, the two leaders will probably put greater focus on macro policies to ensure a domestic-led economic recovery in Japan.

Hashimoto and Clinton will also exchange views on a variety of international issues, with particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region, such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula and policies toward China. Over the past year, Washington has continually reiterated that Japan is an essential security ally, and Hashimoto and Clinton are expected to stress the importance of stronger bilateral relations, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Hashimoto and Clinton met face to face five times last year, mostly at multinational events such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. At that meeting, held in the Philippines last November, discussions were mostly concerned with the burden of U.S. military facilities on the people of Okinawa.

The issue over the level of U.S. troops in Japan has not been resolved, as the Okinawa Prefectural Government continues to seek a total withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2015. But Hashimoto and Clinton will not discuss the reduction of forces at their summit.

Hashimoto and Gore agreed in March to maintain the current level of U.S. troops in Japan. Of the 100,000 U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific region, about 47,000 are stationed in Japan. Okinawa hosts 27,000 of them.

The two leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment to complete the review of the 1978 guidelines on Japan-U.S. defense cooperation by September, but they will not discuss details of the review, the ministry official said. Hashimoto and Clinton agreed to review the guidelines last April in order to upgrade them to meet the requirements of the current situation in East Asia.