Abe Visits US in Move to Reshape Japan’s Foreign Policy Image

(AXcess News) Hong Kong – Japan’s new prime minister Shinzo Abe visits with US president George Bush Thursday to reshape Japan’s foreign policy image after meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao earlier this month in Tokyo.

Abe’s meeting in Washington today will be the first time the Japanese PM has visited the United States since taking office last fall. Abe’s meeting in Tokyo with Wen marked the first time a Chinese leader has set foot on Japanese soil in seven years.

Japan’s new prime minister visited China last fall in an effort to put his nation’s ties with Beijing back on track. Wen’s visit to Japan was an acknowledgement that China was willing to improve foreign relations with Tokyo.

Dennis Wilder. Senior Director for East Asia at the National Security Council, spoke to reporters Wednesday from the White House about Abe’s visit with President Bush, saying it was the first time Bush and Abe had a chance to meet since a brief meeting in Hanoi last November.

Wilder said the two leaders planned on discussing “bilateral issues.” Of note is the fact that Abe and his wife Akie will be staying at Blair House, not as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Bush at the White House.

The two world leaders are set to meet at Camp David on Friday morning, where they will discuss foreign relations.

“Japan remains the world’s second largest economy with a gross domestic product greater than that of China and India combined. Indeed, we see Japan as our greatest strategic partner in East Asia, and an increasingly indispensable global partner”, said Wilder.

Before leaving Japan, Abe called his visit to the US an “indispensable alliance.”

Abe has made no secret of the fact that he wants Japan to refashion its foreign policy priorities and Japan is hopeful that it can become a “balancing power” in the Asian region. Abe has said he wants to spread values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Asian region. In Japan’s attempt to refashion its foreign policies, it sees Australia and India as natural allies.

The Bush administration has backed the notion of a more assertive Japan, viewing Tokyo as an increasingly important partner at a time of dwindling support for Washington’s policies among its allies.

Wilder told reporters Wednesday that Bush and Abe’s talks will include the security situation in East Asia. “They’ll discuss our common approach to the North Korean nuclear problem, the ongoing realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, and ways to deepen our defense cooperation,” said Wilder.

Trade is also tops on the talks between Abe and Bush. Wednesday, Japan’s Finance Ministry released statistics showing that China is now Japan’s top trading partner over the United States.

The total value of trade with China in 2006 was about 25.43 trillion yen, surpassing the 25.16 trillion yen with the United States.

The Finance Ministry said it is the first time since World War II that Japan’s trade with the mainland exceeded that with the United States.

Japan’s overall trade surplus, the value of imports subtracted from the value of exports, was about 9.05 trillion yen, up 16.4 percent from the previous year, the first increase in two years.

Between Japan and China, the value of imports and exports both grew for the eighth consecutive year. Exports were about 11.31 trillion yen, up 21.2 percent from the previous year, led by videogame consoles and electronic components for home appliances.

Imports were about 14.11 trillion yen, up 13 percent, with clothing and cell phone handsets posting strong growth.

Japan’s trade surplus with the United States grew 13.5 percent year on year to about 9.1 trillion yen, the second-largest after the 9.67-trillion-yen surplus in fiscal 1985.

Dave McCormick from the U.S. National Security Council said Wednesday, “We look to have open markets in all areas, and are focused on continuing to find ways for Japan to open up its markets, particularly for foreign investment in the automotive sector. We think that we’ve generally had a lot of good progress, in terms of a good open exchange of trade in the automotive sector.”

Automotive exports from Japan have done a lot to affect its foreign trade. Toyota, it was just announced has surpassed General Motors as the No. 1 automaker and the U.S. looks to persuade Japan to relax foreign investment to more level the playing field.

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