US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have affirmed their alliance and pledged to take a hard line with North Korea. Abe also addressed China-Japan tensions and boosting the Japanese economy.
"You can rest assured that you will have a strong partner in the United States throughout your tenure," Obama told Abe at a meeting in the White House Oval Office Friday, calling the alliance with Japan "the central foundation" for US policy in Asia.
Obama also said he and Abe, who was on his first trip to Washington since taking office, were united in their "determination to take strong actions" in response to North Korea's nuclear test earlier this month.
Abe said he agreed with Obama's position of not offering "rewards" to North Korea and on the need for a new UN Security Council resolution.
In regards to tension between Japan and China, which has increasingly sent ships near Japanese-controlled islands known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, Abe called the US a "stabilizing factor."
"We have always been dealing with the Senkaku issue in a calm manner and we will continue to do so," he said through a translator.
Abe said he and Obama "agreed that we have to work together to maintain the freedom of the seas and also that we would have to create a region which is governed based not on force but based on international law."
Obama did not address the dispute in his remarks, but Secretary of State John Kerry complimented Japan on the restraint it has shown in its efforts to prevent a "significant confrontation."
After his meeting at the White House, Abe told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank that he would cooperate with China's incoming leader Xi Jinping, but insisted the islands belong to Japan.
"We simply cannot tolerate any challenge now and in the future," he said. "No nation should make any miscalculation about the firmness of our resolve."
Abe took power in December on a platform that includes boosting defense spending and aggressively stimulating a long-stagnate economy. While in Washington, he also stressed his "Abenomics" plan would be good for the US, China and other trade partners.
"Soon, Japan will export more, but it will import more as well," he said. "The US will be the first to benefit, followed by China, India, Indonesia and so on."
Obama and Abe agreed to language during the visit that could set the stage for Japan to join negotiations on a US-led free trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"Japan is not, and will never be, a tier-two country. That is the core message I am here to make. And I reiterate this by saying, I am back, and so shall Japan be," Abe said.
dr/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters)