National / Politics

Abe kicks off Diet session with vow to strengthen U.S. military alliance

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to “further strengthen” Japan’s military alliance with the United States on Friday, in his key annual policy speech for 2017 kicking off a six-month ordinary Diet session.

In recent policy speeches Abe has covered economic issues first and foreign policy later. But this year he started with diplomatic policies, apparently trying ease concerns over ties with the U.S. under incoming President Donald Trump, who has criticized Japan on issues from trade to security.

“In the past, now, and from now on, it is the Japan-U.S. alliance that is the cornerstone of foreign and security policies of our country,” Abe told lawmakers packed in the House of Representatives plenary session hall.

“This is a changeless principle. I’d like to visit the U.S. as soon as possible, and I, together with new President Trump, will further strengthen the alliance ties,” Abe said.

Jiji Press reported that the two are likely to meet at the White House early next month after Trump takes office early Saturday morning Japan time, quoting Japanese government sources.

Despite the great uncertainty Trump poses for U.S. foreign policy in Asia, Abe has little room to back away from his commitment to strengthen Japan’s military alliance with the U.S.

Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has centered most of his diplomatic policies on military ties with the U.S., particularly those to cope with the growing military power of China and North Korea.

Abe has also claimed that he has greatly improved Japan’s military alliance with the U.S., contrasting himself with the 2009-2012 government led by the Democratic Party of Japan. The DPJ-led government once backed off Tokyo’s promise to promote a controversial relocation plan for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, central Okinawa, to another location within the prefecture.

In the speech, Abe pledged to promote the Futenma base’s relocation to Nago, northern Okinawa, as originally planned. The Futenma base, which sits in the middle of a densely populated area, poses great danger to local residents, Abe argued.

“The Abe Cabinet will achieve results one by one to reduce Okinawa’s burdens in hosting bases, while maintaining the deterrence power” of the U.S. military in the prefecture, Abe said.

In the speech, Abe also called on lawmakers to promote deliberations at the Diet to propose revision of the postwar Constitution. He didn’t detail which articles he wants to revise.

“This year marks the milestone of the 70th anniversary of the enforcement of the Constitution. … Let’s deepen concrete discussion to propose a plan” to revise the Constitution and show a future vision of Japan, Abe said.

Abe, meanwhile, described South Korea as “the most important neighboring country that shares strategic interests” with Japan, despite a recent row over a statue set up in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan, South Korea, to memorialize “comfort women.”

An apology and compensation for the comfort women, referring to women forced to work at Japanese wartime military brothels, has been a thorny issue between the two countries.

Abe also said he welcomed “the peaceful development of China,” pledging to “make efforts to improve the relationship” with Beijing from “a big-picture viewpoint.”