News / Asia

Obama, Abe to Battle Negative Images at US-Japan Summit

FILE - President Barack Obama waves as he gets off Air Force One upon his arrival at King Khalid International airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2014.
FILE - President Barack Obama waves as he gets off Air Force One upon his arrival at King Khalid International airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2014.
Reuters
When U.S. President Barack Obama meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a summit next week, they will be battling negative undercurrents that could undermine their message that Asia's most important security alliance is firm.
 
Obama, stopping in Tokyo at the beginning of a four-nation Asian trip, must counter worries in Japan that his commitment to its defense in the face of an increasingly assertive China is weak.
 
Abe will be trying to soothe U.S. concerns that his conservative push to recast Japan's war record with a less apologetic tone is overshadowing his pragmatic policies on the economy and security.
 
The two leaders will also need to demonstrate at least the prospect of progress on the economic centerpiece of what the Obama administration calls its strategic “rebalance” to Asia - a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that would bring together Japan, the United States and 10 other economies.
 
Strains could also emerge over the crisis in the Ukraine, expected to be on the agenda when the two leaders talk.
 
Japanese and U.S. officials say the alliance is rock-solid and the atmospherics will be just fine at what will be the first state visit to Tokyo by a U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 1996.
 
But in a sign of how imagery matters, Tokyo sweated for months for Washington to affirm Japan's special ally status by agreeing to make Obama's visit a state occasion with accompanying ceremony, including dinner with the emperor, rather than a less elaborate business trip.
 
Obama will spend two nights in Tokyo, but almost all his events will take place on April 24, according to a provisional schedule released by Japan's foreign ministry.
 
“A presidential visit is at least half symbolic,” said Toshio Nakayama, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo.
 
“We always pay attention, but we will be paying more attention to the dissonance between the two leaders.”
 
The United States has welcomed efforts by Abe to revive Japan's economy after a two-decade slump and to shoulder more of the burden for the decades-old alliance, the core of Japan's security policies and central to the U.S. presence in Asia.
 
History lessons, Ukraine strain
 
But ties were strained after Abe paid his respects last December at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's past militarism because leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals are honored there along with those who died on the battlefield.

 
FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama attend the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, March 24, 2014.FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama attend the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, March 24, 2014.
x
FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama attend the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, March 24, 2014.
FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama attend the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, March 24, 2014.
Washington had signaled it wanted Abe to stay away and then expressed “disappointment” over his visit, fearing it would further fray ties with China and South Korea, where Japan's past aggression has left a bitter legacy.
 
Japan is also embroiled in territorial feuds with its two neighbors, most notably a tense row over tiny East China Sea islets controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
 
China in particular has used the Yasukuni visit to portray Abe as a right-wing nationalist who could lead Japan down the same path it traveled to World War Two.
 
A U.S. official dismissed that assessment, but also told Reuters: “We think it's important that Japan address historical issues in a way that does not increase tensions.”
 
Some lawmakers close to Abe have resented the U.S. public chastisement over Yasukuni, which they said tilted towards Beijing and Seoul at Tokyo's expense.
 
Abe's government has been at pains to distance itself from such comments and others casting doubt on the prime minister's commitment to past apologies for Japan's wartime deeds. But some knowledgeable sources say the episode still rankles in Tokyo.
 
“The U.S. delivered a moral judgment, saying it's disappointed,” said a former Japanese diplomat. “That didn't happen with previous administrations.”
 
The more recent crisis in Ukraine could also expose divergent geopolitical interests.
 
Despite strong Group of Seven unity over imposing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine last month, it did not go unnoticed in the White House that Japan's sanctions were less robust than U.S. or European steps.
 
The topic could fan tension if Obama presses for more measures covering the oil and gas trade, given Abe's push for warmer ties with Moscow as Japan seeks to diversify its energy imports after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
“I do not think we are out of sync now, but we could be if it is necessary to increase sanctions,” said Michael Green, a member of the White House National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration and now an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
 
Japan as 'red state'
 
On Thursday, as the Ukraine crisis deepened, Japan said it was postponing a visit to Moscow by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that had been planned for this month, citing scheduling reasons.
 
Some in Japan, meanwhile, worry Obama's seeming inability to rein in Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending a message of weakness to China, which might then be emboldened to put military muscle behind its claims to the disputed East China Sea islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
 
The United States says the islands fall under a U.S.-Japan security pact that obligates it to defend Japan, but is wary of being drawn into any military clash between China and Japan.
 
One view on Crimea in Japan is that “the lack of a strong U.S. response demonstrates that the U.S. global role as a world policeman is dwindling”, said Narushige Michishita, a professor at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
 
Compounding Japanese frustration is a sense that Washington does not fully appreciate Abe's efforts to shed the constraints of Japan's post-war pacifist constitution so that it can do more in its own defense and that of its allies.
 
A widely held Japanese perception that ties would be warmer with a Republican in the White House - a view some close to Abe have taken no pains to hide - has also added to the discontent.
 
“The idea has caught on that the Democrats are pro-China and the Republicans are pro-Japan and if only the Republicans were in the White House, everything would be hunky-dory,” said Columbia University professor Gerry Curtis.
 
Tensions born of Abe's effort to be more than a junior partner in the alliance also appear to be at work.
 
“I think the United States places a very high level of importance on the alliance, but thinks the ally should take orders from the boss - and they are puzzled why Japan is not taking orders,” one Japanese government official told Reuters.
 
Conscious that China will be studying the choreography in  minute detail, summit planners will do everything possible to ensure no strains are on display in Tokyo.
 
“Both Prime Minister Abe and President Obama are very business-like people,” one Abe administration source told Reuters, dismissing talk that the two leaders do not have good personal chemistry.
 
“Every time they meet they engage very smoothly and are building a firm relationship of trust.”

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs