ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed to cooperate toward improving in the situation in war-torn Syria during a bilateral meeting at the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
During their hour-long discussion Thursday, Abe and Obama shared the view that a strong response from the international community is needed over the suspected use of chemicals arms against the Syrian people by President Bashar Assad’s regime, according to Japanese sources.
Abe told Obama that he values his efforts to seek a broad global consensus for a potential U.S. military strike against Syria, and that he fully understands the president’s desire and determination to launch an attack.
The prime minister expressed deep respect for Obama’s strong commitment that the United States has a responsibility to respond to the Aug. 21 apparent sarin gassing near Damascus, while voicing Japan’s intention to expand humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
Obama told Abe that the United States views the use of chemical weapons as a tragedy and a violation of international law that must be dealt with, indirectly calling for Japan’s support of military action against the Assad regime.
Their meeting was arranged at the request of Washington. Abe did not mention what efforts he sought during a phone conversation with Obama on Tuesday for a U.N. Security Council resolution on military intervention in Syria.
Also during Thursday’s meeting, Obama told Abe that the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of security for many countries in the world.
Abe explained that his government is trying to strengthen the alliance by establishing a domestic version of the U.S. National Security Council, as well as its efforts to review the state’s interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise collective self-defense.
Touching on the East Asia security environment, Abe said cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea is pivotal to present a united front on the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threats.
On Japan’s soured relations with China over the Senkaku Islands, an issue the United States has previously voiced concern over, Abe assured Obama that Tokyo’s door is always open for dialogue with Beijing. Obama said the U.S. supports a resolution of the sovereignty clash through dialogue and that it is opposed to any attempt to change the regional status quo by force, in a warning to China.
The two also confirmed that Japan and the United States will work toward concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Abe invited Obama to visit Japan at a time of his choosing, and the president responded positively. The leaders also confirmed that they will arrange to meet again on the sidelines of an October summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bali, Indonesia.
Russia ‘2-plus-2’ talks set
Japan and Russia agreed in a summit Thursday to hold their first bilateral security talks under a “two-plus-two” framework in November and continue working for progress on their long-standing territorial dispute.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin also discussed the Syrian crisis without any agreement during their talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20, a Japanese official said.
Abe and Putin agreed that their foreign and defense ministers will meet Nov. 1 and 2 in Tokyo to strengthen bilateral security ties.
Japan has held similar so-called two-plus-two meetings with the United States and Australia. Japan will be Russia’s fifth such bilateral security dialogue partner, according to the official.
In their third one-on-one talks this year, Abe and Putin reaffirmed their commitment to negotiations over the sovereignty of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan.
They agreed to continue dialogue on the territorial dispute in a “friendly, quiet and calm environment,” the official said.
At issue are Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group. They were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II.
The dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty.
Abe urges Xi to reset ties
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged a reset in frayed ties with China when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
The meeting was the first between leaders of the two countries since relations nose-dived last year over Japan’s move to effectively nationalize the China-claimed Senkaku Islands, sparking a row that has led to warnings of a possible armed confrontation. Japan took control of the islets in 1895, but China has been claiming them since the 1970s.
“Prime Minister Abe explained (to Xi) about our thoughts that we should develop Japan-China relations by going back to the original point of the strategic, mutually beneficial relationship,” Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
A Japanese Embassy spokesman in Moscow said the two leaders shook hands and spoke for about five minutes at the G-20 meeting of world leaders. Despite the huge economic importance of the relationship between Asia’s two largest economic powers, the two men have not met since the right-wing Abe took office in December and Xi in March.
According to China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Abe said he had been looking forward to seeing Xi in Russia and was quoted as saying, “I am eager to improve Japanese-Chinese relations.”
Xinhua cited Xi as telling Abe that Beijing wants to improve ties “on the basis of the four Chinese-Japanese political documents,” a reference to agreements hammered out from the early 1970s onward as the two countries normalized diplomatic relations. The report said Xi had reiterated China’s position that Japan must address historical grievances.
Beijing regularly charges that Tokyo has not made sufficient amends for its militarism and aggression in the past century, and that the nation plays down the extent of its wrongdoing.
Japan says it has apologized and maintains that China uses history to accuse its neighbor and as a rallying cry at home to distract domestic attention from social and economic problems.
The often difficult relations between the world’s second- and third-largest economies worsened significantly last September, when Japan effectively nationalized the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China argues the uninhabited chain, which it calls the Diaoyu, was illegally snatched by Japan at the end of the 19th century and demands its return.
Chinese government ships, most recently from the country’s new coast guard, have regularly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus.