Noda welcomes Obama’s re-election, hopes to deepen Japan’s ties with U.S.

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Wednesday welcomed Barack Obama’s re-election as U.S. president, expressing hope to deepen the bilateral alliance amid Japan’s territorial tensions with China.

“I’ve issued a message to congratulate President Obama on his re-election. I’ll continue to cooperate with him,” Noda told reporters at his office after Obama was assured of victory in Tuesday’s election.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters: “The security environment in East Asia is severe, so the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance has increased. We hope to continuously enhance and deepen the alliance.

“President Obama has taken a stance of placing importance on the Asia-Pacific region. We have welcomed it,” Fujimura said.

Tokyo hopes to arrange a one-on-one meeting between Noda and Obama on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh later this month, during which the two are expected to pledge to deepen the long-standing Tokyo-Washington alliance at a time when China is rapidly expanding its naval capacity in resource-rich Asian waters, government officials said.

Obama’s administration has been strategically shifting its military focus to the Asia-Pacific region, thus Japan is expected to reinforce its ties with the United States to deal with China’s ambitions to increase its dominance, the officials said.

Relations between Japan and China have significantly soured, in particular after Noda’s government purchased three of the five Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in September from their Saitama titleholder. China also claims the islets and calls them Daioyu.

“It is very important for the United States and Japan to work as one to establish order and rule in the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said in a separate news conference.

Some officials in Tokyo are concerned that Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and an experienced Japan hand, may leave the administration, a move that could prompt the United States to demand more from Japan.

But Genba said, “Whatever the lineup (Obama chooses), we’ll make every effort not to undermine the relationship” between Tokyo and Washington.

The government officials also hope Obama’s re-election will expedite progress on other key bilateral issues, including the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-populated area in Okinawa, although residents of the prefecture don’t want a substitute base built anywhere on their turf.

A major pending economic issue, with opponents on both sides of the Pacific, is whether Japan, as Noda has signaled, will join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks.

Obama, who seeks to bolster U.S. exports and economic growth, could further pressure Japan to join the TPP negotiations and open its markets.

Certain lawmakers and segments of the public in Japan are meanwhile concerned that joining the TPP could doom domestic farmers if any free-trade pact opens the door to a flood of cheaper produce.

Noda wants Japan to take part in the TPP talks, which now involve 11 nations, including the United States, saying high-level free-trade agreements are necessary to prop up the country’s sluggish economy.

Some U.S. industries oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP, particularly carmakers, which feel Japanese regulations have barred foreign automakers from penetrating the market and that the bilateral trade imbalance will widen if Japan joins the tariff-cutting framework.

Whether Japan can get along well with Obama’s administration for the next four years may hinge in large part on the TPP issue, analysts said.

But at Wednesday’s press conference, Fujimura only said, “We’ll continue to move ahead with talks with relevant countries, including the United States, toward (Japan’s) participation in the TPP negotiations.”