WASHINGTON, DC: The United States and Japan sought to reinvigorate their 70-year alliance in the face of China’s growing clout Tuesday, with President Barack Obama welcoming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House.
Voicing shared anxiety about China’s activities in the South and East China Seas, the two leaders vowed to counter new threats and increase joint military deterrence.
Obama accused China of “flexing their muscles” though territorial claims and the building of new islands in disputed waters.
“There are some real tensions that have arisen with China around its approach to maritime issues and its claims,” Obama said.
Many experts believe the oil-rich South China Sea — a mosaic of historical territorial claims — could be a flashpoint for conflict.
The US president reiterated his “absolute” commitment to Japan’s defense and stressed that pledge “covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including Senkaku Islands.”
Beijing lays claim to the island chain in the East China Sea it calls the Diaoyus.
Now is the first time that US defense assurance will be reciprocated, thanks to a deal signed during Abe’s visit.
Japan’s well-trained and well-equipped forces will be able to come to the defense of the United States, a dramatically more assertive security role for the officially long-pacifist country.
But, Obama insisted, “we don’t think that a strong US-Japan alliance should be seen as a provocation.”
“We welcome China’s peaceful rise.”
Abe and Obama also pledged to forge ahead with a Trans-Pacific trade deal that would encompass 12 countries and 40 percent of the world economy, but which does not include Beijing.
China has increasingly been making its economic prowess felt, pushing hard for the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to rival US-backed institutions.
Obama denied that the United States opposed the bank, but said transparency was essential.
“What we don’t want to do is just be participating in something and providing cover for an institution that does not end up doing right by its people,” he said.
During a joint press conference, Abe expressed his remorse over the sexual slavery of Asian women during World War II in Japanese military brothels—a deeply emotive issue in China and South Korea—but stopped short of issuing his own apology.
“I am deeply pained to think about the ‘comfort women’ who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering as a result of victimization due to human trafficking,” Abe said.
Mainstream historians say an estimated 200,000 women from Korea, China and other Asian nations were systematically raped by Japan’s imperial forces.
Abe — who would like to move beyond Japan’s checkered past — has been under fierce pressure to repeat the apologies of his predecessors.
He has also enraged Seoul and Beijing by visiting controversial war shrines.