WASHINGTON, D.C.: President Barack Obama will seek to encourage the emergence of a more assertive Japan and close in on a major Pacific trade deal when he hosts Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House Tuesday.
Abe will get treatment normally reserved for royalty or heads of state, including a 300-guest White House state dinner in his honor, underscoring the renewed relevance of an alliance forged in the ashes of World War II.
The Japanese premier lands in Washington buttressed by victory in local elections that were seen as a referendum on his administration.
The White House will be keen to capitalize on an emboldened Abe’s desire to put Japan back at the center of power in Asia, as China flexes its political and economic muscle.
Mindful of China’s rising influence, the Obama administration launched a “pivot to Asia” strategy, aggressively courting several regional economic powers and nurturing a network of alliances.
The visit comes “in the context of our broader efforts to continue to rebalance the Asia-Pacific region,” said top Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes.
Abe has backed a bigger role for Japan’s security forces, including a deal expected Monday that could allow personnel to come to the aid of US troops in the event of a skirmish or attack.
Japan’s military was scrapped after the end of the war, and pacifism is enshrined in the country’s constitution, which Abe has sought to reinterpret.
“We very much welcome the fact that Japan is looking to play a more constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the broader Asia-Pacific region,” said Rhodes.
“We believe that that dovetails very nicely with the US rebalance.”
Part of that rebalance is securing a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that draws in 12 countries—including Japan and the United States—many of which are keen to counter Beijing’s increasingly strong centripetal pull.