WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and U.S. President Barack Obama vowed Monday to cooperate further to ensure stability in Asia in the face of China’s increasing military buildup and its ally’s apparent plan to carry out a third nuclear test.
But the two leaders during their hourlong summit at the White House kept bilateral areas of contention in low profile, including the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa and Japan’s plan to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations.
Noda and Obama meanwhile agreed on what the latter called a new vision for the Japan-U.S. alliance that will help shape the Asia-Pacific region “for decades to come,” apparently aiming to keep in check China’s growing assertiveness in the area’s waters.
On North Korea, Noda said at a joint press conference with Obama after the summit that he agreed with the president to cooperate with the international community in efforts to persuade Pyongyang to refrain from any activity that poses a threat to regional security, noting China, Pyongyang’s main ally, must plan an “important” role.
Obama warned that North Korea will be more “isolated” if it engages in further provocation.
Noda became the first prime minister to formally meet with Obama in Washington since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in September 2009.
The leaders issued a joint postsummit statement calling the bilateral alliance “the cornerstone of peace, security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“I’m proud to announce that we have agreed to a new joint vision to guide our alliance, and help shape the Asia-Pacific for decades to come,” Obama said at the news conference.
The statement said Japan and the U.S. “pledge to fulfill our roles and responsibilities by utilizing the full range of capabilities to advance regional and global peace, prosperity and security.”
On the defense front, Noda and Obama promised to promote bilateral cooperation, saying in the statement that a recent review of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan could help strengthen the ability “to respond to a variety of contingencies in the region.”
They also confirmed that Tokyo and Washington will expand their partnership to outer space and cyberspace, while agreeing to start working together in research and development of recycling of rare earth elements.
In light of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant crisis, the two leaders announced a bilateral committee will be formed to build up private cooperation in nuclear safety and security, including decontamination of radioactive materials.
They also reiterated their stand against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and support for Myanmar’s democratic reforms, government officials said.
Obama also expressed willingness to keep supporting reconstruction work following the devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying, “Mr. prime minister, on behalf of the American people, I want to say to you and the people of Japan — We continue to stand with you as well.”
It was the first time for the two nations to release a top-level joint statement since 2006, when then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then President George W. Bush met, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo.
But Noda and Obama declined to make concrete comments on the controversial plan to relocate the Futenma base within Okinawa or on Japan’s participation in TPP talks.
Japanese government officials said Noda and Obama vowed to ease the burden on Okinawa of hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, but Noda said only at the press conference, “We’ll make efforts for early resolution” of the Futenma relocation issue.
The two avoided reconfirming that Tokyo and Washington will stick to their plan to move the Futenma base from crowded Ginowan to the less densely populated Henoko coast at Camp Schwab in Nago in the same prefecture, the officials said. Local residents are calling on the central government to relocate the base outside Okinawa.
Regarding Japan’s entry into the U.S.-led TPP negotiations, the statement said only the two countries will try to move ahead with bilateral talks, which have been proceeding with difficulty.