• Kyodo

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Japanese Ambassador to the United States Shinsuke Sugiyama spoke in Washington Monday on the significance of legislative exchanges between Japan and the U.S. in strengthening bilateral relations.

The reception event was hosted by the U.S.-Japan Caucus, a congressional group dedicated to promoting relations with Japan.

Citing meetings between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other senior Japanese lawmakers with a congressional delegation during a visit to Japan last fall, Sugiyama hailed such exchanges as a driver for deepening bilateral ties.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, co-chair of the caucus and also a member of the delegation, said he backed endeavors by President Donald Trump together with U.S. allies Japan and South Korea to bring peace and stability to Northeast Asia.

With Trump expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by early June to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Castro said he hopes the president will be successful in negotiating with Kim with the support of Japan and South Korea.

“We wish them nothing but the best, regardless of political party,” Castro said at the reception for the caucus, a bipartisan congressional organization with more than 100 members.

Castro also called for closer U.S.-Japan coordination in ensuring maritime security in the South and East China seas. But he did not refer to China’s militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea or Beijing’s attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands — which China also claims and calls Diaoyu — in the East China Sea.

Castro stressed the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and conducting trade without disturbance through the seas, which he described as being “so vital to international trade.”

China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which over one-third of global trade passes.