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U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright toned down Washington’s criticism of Japan’s economic recovery efforts, calling the 16 trillion yen stimulus package announced last week a “bold” step.

“The U.S. government welcomes very much the very important and bold steps that the Japanese government took in terms of its own economic situation,” Albright told a joint news conference with her counterpart, Keizo Obuchi.

Japan’s economic recovery is essential for the recovery of the Asian economy and for a reduction in Japan’s trade surplus with the United States, said Albright, who visited Japan on her way to China, Mongolia and South Korea.

Asia “has a strong interest in seeing Japan succeed in generating a strong domestic recovery that will contribute to the recovery in Asia,” Albright said.

The stimulus package released Friday, featuring 7.7 trillion yen in public works spending and an additional 4 trillion yen in tax cuts for 1998 and 1999, came on the heels of repeated pressure from U.S. government leaders calling on Tokyo to take substantial measures to shore up its dormant economy.

Albright and Obuchi faced reporters after they signed an accord revising the bilateral Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which aims to promote logistical support by the Self-Defense Forces to the U.S. military in cases of military emergencies in areas surrounding Japan.

Albright said Japan’s economic measures will also be helpful in rectifying the trade imbalance between Japan and the U.S., which rose 44.3 percent in fiscal 1997. Obuchi said Japan’s surplus has been increasing partly because of the strong U.S. economy and the weak yen. “We will basically seek to boost imports by stimulating the Japanese economy,” Obuchi pledged.

He also said that an appropriate yen-dollar exchange rate that will not cause an export drive by Japanese firms should be carefully considered.

Albright said current Japan-U.S. relations are “excellent” and the bilateral alliance remains the cornerstone of regional security. Obuchi said he and Albright agreed on the importance of both countries strengthening relations with China, saying such relations are critical for regional peace and stability.

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