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Sunday, April 26, 2015, 16:22

Japan's PM goes to US to showcase close ties

Japan's PM goes to US to showcase close ties
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe walks during the Asian Africa Conference in Jakarta on April 22, 2015. Asian and African leaders have gathered in Indonesia this week to mark 60 years since a landmark conference that helped forge a common identity among emerging states, but analysts say big-power rivalries will overshadow proclamations of solidarity. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / BEAWIHARTA)

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's itinerary for his weeklong US visit beginning Sunday will showcase the success of the alliance built from Tokyo's defeat in World War II, while promoting a political agenda based on still stronger military and economic ties.

The visit will take Abe from Boston to Silicon Valley, with ample time for hobnobbing with high-flying businesspeople like the founders of Facebook and Apple, Japanese scholars and celebrities.

With no major trade or economic deals expected, the aim, officials in Tokyo said, is to confirm an upgrading of joint defense guidelines and to advertise the bright side of Japan and its people, including Americans of Japanese ancestry, and possibly sell some bullet train systems.

Abe is first among several leaders of Asia, including China and South Korea, visiting the US this year, a sign of Washington's growing attention to the region.

He can point to his brief summit the week before with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a sign of improving relations despite lingering friction over Japan's wartime history and territorial disputes. Abe still hasn't met bilaterally with South Korea's President Park Geun-hye due to a row over his stance on the issue of sex slaves _ women forced to work in military brothels during the war.

But, he will acknowledge the wartime past with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial National Museum. Abe will also go to Arlington National Cemetery and pay respects to Japanese-American war-dead at the ``Go for Broke'' memorial.

``The biggest purpose of my US visit is to show how Japan contributes to the peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world as we step up the Japan-US alliance,'' Abe said during a recent appearance on a TV talk show.

Abe's US visit begins in Boston with a dinner at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, and visits to Harvard and MIT. He will travel on to Washington, D.C. for talks with President Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, he will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress, and likely will seek to tilt the balance in favor of Obama's request for ``fast-track'' rules to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation, a US-led trade initiative. Recent ministerial-level talks between Japan and the United States have made progress, but officials say they don't expect a major breakthrough during Abe's visit.

In his address, Abe is expected to touch on historical issues before highlighting Japan's contributions to relations with the US since its post-war occupation ended in 1952.

The speech ``is basically evolving around the Japan-US relationship, how we have come a long way in 70 years,'' Japan's ambassador to the US, Kenichiro Sasae, told a recent seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. ``What are the challenges we are heading for?'' he said. ``What will be the best thing for the leaders to recognize and build together?''

Abe said he is somewhat nervous about making a speech in English, and is hoping the lawmakers will be kinder than their peers back home.

``In Japan, I have to deal with hecklers,'' he said.

For Abe, who pushes to expand Japan's defense capabilities, a top agenda during talks with Obama is endorsing revised Japan-U.S defense guidelines, to be finalized a day earlier between the two countries' foreign and defense ministers.

The revision, first in 18 years, would boost Japan's role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, as the two militaries work together in a region amid China's growing assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing. The new arrangement would also allow Japan to dispatch its armed forces beyond the region for logistical backup of US military's global operations, in distant areas including the Middle East.

Japan's military role is currently limited to its own self-defense and the country's war-renouncing constitution still prohibits pre-emptive strikes, leaving any offensive action to the US.


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