Abe, U.S. senator concur on need to bolster alliance

Kyodo

Japan and the United States should strengthen bilateral ties as China increases its presence in the South China and East China seas, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the visiting chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed Thursday.

Abe told Robert Menendez at a meeting in Tokyo that the alliance’s importance is “increasing more and more” as the “strategic environment” in the Asia-Pacific region undergoes drastic change.

Menendez, making his first trip to Asia since becoming the committee chairman, said Japan is the cornerstone of U.S. interests in East Asia, with both Tokyo and Washington sharing such values as democracy and human rights.

The two discussed issues concerning Okinawa, where opposition remains strong to the U.S. military presence.

They also talked about “Abenomics,” the economic policy pursued by the Abe administration, according to Menendez.

“The treaty alliance we have with Japan is the cornerstone of our engagement in Asia, which is why I wanted to make (Japan) our first stop,” the senator told reporters after the meeting.

Menendez said he appreciated Abe meeting with him on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

“I’m mindful that the prime minister welcomed me on a day in history, which only goes to show how far the two countries have come together,” he said.

On Abe declining to visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on the surrender anniversary, Menendez said, “I think his decision today is one that’s very clear, very thoughtful and looking toward the future.”

They also talked about the Abenomics policy to revive the Japanese economy, including the “three arrows” of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and a growth strategy, according to Menendez.

Abe and Menendez agreed that the two countries should cooperate in crafting a free-trade agreement involving Pacific Rim countries known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with the latter noting the importance of Japan’s recent participation in the U.S.-led initiative, according to Japanese officials.

Menendez also met with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida later Thursday. They agreed it is important for Japan and the U.S. to proceed with the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan as agreed on between the two countries, Japanese officials said.

During a meeting Wednesday with the head of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, the senator called for the restoration of Japan-China relations.

Natsuo Yamaguchi responded by saying his party will put weight on increasing dialogue with China. Yamaguchi is expected to visit Washington and New York from Sept. 8 to 13.