Kan thanks Obama for U.S. siding with Japan

by Masami Ito

YOKOHAMA — Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed gratitude Saturday to President Barack Obama for Washington’s support during Japan’s territorial tensions with China and Russia.

According to a Japanese official, Obama said during talks with Kan in Yokohama that China should adhere to international rules, alluding to its alleged restrictions on rare earth exports.

Later in the day, Kan managed to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in a hastily arranged meeting, while another meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was held as scheduled.

Kan and Obama discussed a wide range of issues, from security and economic cooperation to cultural and people exchanges, during their meeting on the sidelines of the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“I expressed my appreciation for the consistent support of the U.S. amid Japan’s various problems with China and Russia,” Kan said after the meeting. “I also said that I myself and many Japanese people as well as neighboring countries recognized the further importance of the U.S. military presence for the peace and security of the region.”

Japan-U.S. relations had been strained during the past year over the relocation of the Futenma military base in Okinawa. But Tokyo-Washington ties appear to be improving since Japan’s spat with China over an incident between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard cutters near the disputed Senkaku Islands.

“As allies for half a century, the partnership between Japan and the U.S. has been the foundation for our security and our prosperity, not only for our two countries but also for the region,” Obama said. “We are partners in Asia and around the world.”

According to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama, who sat in on the meeting, Obama said China needs to obey international rules.

“We welcome the economic rise of China,” Obama was quoted as saying. “But as a member of the international community, it is important for China to . . . speak and behave appropriately in accordance with international rules.”

International concern increased after China allegedly placed a halt on rare earth shipments to Japan following the run-in in the East China Sea. Most of the global supply of rare earth is controlled by China.

Kan and Obama agreed to cooperate on securing a steady supply of rare earth materials.

Obama also welcomed Japan’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement being negotiated among nine countries. But with some ruling and opposition lawmakers, not to mention the nation’s farmers, raising strong objections, it is uncertain whether Japan will ever be able to join the TPP.

“I very much welcome the prime minister’s interest in liberalizing trade and his promotion of domestic reforms,” Obama said.

“He explained that these steps could put Japan on the road to membership in the TPP and I very much welcome Japan’s interest.”

The Futenma relocation from the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago in northern Okinawa Islands remains a problem with the prefecture in the middle of a gubernatorial race.