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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared after a visit to Washington last week that “the trust and the bond” of the alliance with US has been mended. Abe and US President Barack Obama held their first talks at the White House and agreed to further strengthen the Japan-US alliance.
Abe’s visit to US was considered important because it comes at a time of tension in the Pacific. China has territorial disputes with some countries in the region and Beijing has been accused of flexing its military muscles to scare away others. Tokyo is locked in an intense dispute with China over an island, which is called in different names in Japanese and Chinese. It’s in this context that Abe’s visit assumes significance. It’s especially important for Tokyo, because it needs support from the world’s superpower to maintain the current balance of power in the region. Abe said that he wants to declare the strong bond of the Japan-US alliance has been restored completely.
Japan-US relations became disoriented while Democratic Party of Japan-led government held power for more than three years. Seemingly going hand-in-hand with this, Japan’s relations with China and South Korea also deteriorated.
The new prime minister now has the difficult task of steering the country forward in a tense neighbourhood. He must focus on bringing peace and stability to the region and not get provoked by external influences. The improvement in relations with Washington should be used to create a balance in its relations with Beijing. China too needs to react cautiously. Further escalation in tension in the Pacific will be detrimental to both countries because of the deep economic ties between the two.
US too stands to gain from the strengthening of bonds. The Obama administration believes that restoring relations with Japan under the Abe administration would bring greater stability to the entire Asian region and benefit its own strategy that gives greater priority to Asia.
The two leaders also issued a joint statement on Japan’s possible participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement talks. They confirmed “it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations,” though they maintained the basic principle that all goods would be subject to the negotiations.
The US visit will boost Abe’s confidence. He believed that Tokyo’s neighbours have been rattling their swords since the alliance was damaged under the DPJ-led administrations. Abe sees strong relations with the United States as a key part of keeping countries like China and North Korea in check. With Pyongyang choosing to test more nuclear weapons in defiance of all international threats, there is a need to be overcautious. North Korea has conducted its third nuclear test and has been continuing its missile development•