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The cancellation of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s trip to Washington next week will not affect bilateral relations, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley suggested Wednesday.

Hashimoto’s visit “would have been a strong occasion to reaffirm the fundamental character of the U.S.-Japan relationship,” Foley said in a speech in Tokyo. “I would take this opportunity to say the American government regards its partnership with Japan as fundamental to our policies in the Asia-Pacific region,” he added.

The trip was canceled after Hashimoto announced his resignation to take responsibility for the setback his Liberal Democratic Party suffered in the Upper House election Sunday.

The relationship between the U.S. and Japan will be the fundamental alliance in the Asia-Pacific region well into the 21st century, and no other country can change that relationship, Foley said.

After U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to China late last month, some commentators said Washington was shifting attention more to China than Japan, but Foley reaffirmed that Washington’s strengthened relations with China do not mean it is placing less importance on Japan.

Regarding Japan’s economy, Foley said Tokyo faces the short-term challenges of stabilizing and strengthening its financial system, and that revitalization of the economy is urgently needed. He said Japan has made some important progress over the past nine months to address the burden of the nonperforming loans that are plaguing the banking sector.

He said the task of the newly established Financial Supervisory Agency is important because public and market confidence in the financial information available and in the safety of financial institutions depends on the credibility of financial supervision.

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