Fewer Americans see economic and trade issues as major problems with Japan, with a record number expressing overall positive views on bilateral ties, especially in security, an opinion poll released Sunday by the Foreign Ministry indicates.

The annual Gallup poll, which is commissioned by the ministry, also shows Japan remains a key U.S. partner in Asia.

The U.S. polling group conducted the survey in March on 1,500 people from the general public aged 18 and over and 378 experts in such fields as politics, business, academia, labor, mass media and religion.

According to the poll, 46 percent of respondents from the general public called for more effort in resolving economic and trade problems between the two nations, down from 53 percent the previous year, while 51 percent cited Japan’s closed markets as the main reason for the U.S. trade deficit, down from 55 percent.

Among the experts, 69 percent believed that solving economic and trade problems is the best way to improve bilateral ties, down from 75 percent, with 52 percent citing Japan’s closed markets as the main reason for the trade imbalance, down from 63 percent.

More Americans blamed the U.S. fiscal deficit, Japan’s weak domestic demand and other macroeconomic factors for the trade gap, a view supported by 25 percent of general-public respondents, up from 22 percent, and 34 percent of experts, up from 25 percent the previous year.

As for overall impressions of Japan, 43 percent of the general public responded positively, matching the record high marked last year, with 60 percent regarding Japan as a trustworthy nation, inching down from the record-high 61 percent logged last year.

But 47 percent said they have no overall impression, down from 48 percent, and 16 percent gave no answer when asked whether they could trust Japan, up from 14 percent, indicating a lack of public awareness about Japan.

Among experts, however, positive views reached 79 percent, up from 74 percent and topping the all-time high of 78 percent reached in 1997, while the percentage of those who trust Japan remained at 87 percent.

On security relations, 71 percent of the general public supported bilateral security ties as contributing to peace and stability in Japan and the East Asia, down from last year’s record-high 74 percent.

The U.S.-Japan security treaty was regarded as important for U.S. security interests by a record 87 percent, up from 86 percent, while an unchanged 84 percent called for maintaining the treaty.

Among experts, 86 percent cited the need to maintain the treaty, down from 89 percent, with 83 percent seeing it as contributing to peace and stability in Japan and East Asia, down from 87 percent. Eighty-five percent of experts called the treaty important for U.S. security, down from 86 percent.

Respondents from the general public who viewed Japan as “the most important partner” of the United States in Asia accounted for 53 percent, up from 51 percent, while 22 percent chose China, up from 21 percent, and 6 percent selected Russia, down from 8 percent.

The trend was nearly the opposite among experts, with Japan selected by 72 percent, down from 75 percent, and China by 20 percent, up from 19 percent. Russia was chosen by 3 percent of experts, up from 2 percent.