WASHINGTON – The Obama administration will seek to forge a close relationship with the new Liberal Democratic Party-led government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a U.S. State Department official said.
“We look forward to continuing our close relationship with Japan and its new prime minister and Cabinet,” State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday. “Our two countries share many regional and global interests, and we will continue to pursue cooperative and productive ties.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also congratulated new Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, a Pentagon official said in a statement, adding the U.S.-Japan security alliance “serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific (region).”
Abe, who heads the LDP and was named prime minister Wednesday, pledged to strengthen the Japan-U.S. pact as the first step toward revamping Tokyo’s diplomacy.
U.S. media and analysts frequently slammed Japan’s revolving door of prime ministers in recent years. Reporting on Abe’s return to power Wednesday, CNN stressed he is the nation’s seventh prime minister in six years. But experts expect Washington will welcome Abe’s goal to enhance the bilateral security alliance.
“Although the United States has recommitted itself to Asian security through its so-called rebalancing policy, the more Japan can contribute to regional security, the better,” said Mike Mochizuki, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. “Because the U.S. faces severe fiscal constraints at home, it naturally looks to allies and friends like Japan to help out (overseas).”
On the stalled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Mochizuki said the issue “will be a difficult challenge for the LDP government, as it was for the Democratic Party of Japan government” that lost power to the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition in a devastating general election defeat Dec. 16.
“(I) personally feel it is politically difficult, if not impossible,” to relocate the Futenma base from the crowded Ginowan to the sparsely populated Henoko district of Nago, both on Okinawa Island, Mochizuki said.
“I hope the LDP government will have enough imagination, power and will to develop and implement a new creative plan that will help equalize the burden between Okinawa and the rest of Japan from hosting U.S. bases and forces, while enhancing the operational effectiveness of the U.S-Japan alliance,” he said.
Given that the Futenma replacement has been stalled for years by fierce local opposition, Tokyo and Washington agreed earlier this year to delink the issue from the transfer to Guam of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa.
Putin sends congrats
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent a congratulatory telegram to new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, voicing expectations that the two can continue reinforcing bilateral ties to stabilize and enhance security in the Asia-Pacific region, Russia’s presidential office said.
Touching upon his past meeting with Abe during his first term as Japan’s leader from 2006 to 2007, Putin indicated in the message Wednesday that he is interested in enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the fields of politics, the economy and science technology.