The next prime minister should visit Asia first thing and promote dialogue with China in such areas as energy to improve ties, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in a recent interview.

"The most important thing is we need a Japan that is not an automatic follower of the United States," Armitage said, noting that President George W. Bush has followed some advice from Koizumi, especially about Asian matters.

"Particularly in a time when we're so heavily tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq and with Iran," he said, "we need a Japan who can be a good partner for us in Asia and who can advise us when we're going the wrong way in Asia.