Sun, November 15, 2009
World > Asia-Pacific > US president Obama's first Asia tour

Obama pledges commitment to Asia, reaffirms alliance with Japan in Tokyo visit

2009-11-14 10:39:02 GMT2009-11-14 18:39:02 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Visiting U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech on U.S. policy toward Asia at Suntory Hall in Tokyo,Nov. 14, 2009. (AFP Photo)

TOKYO, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama concluded on Saturday his two-day visit to Japan with a keynote speech at Tokyo's Suntory Hall, during which he addressed issues of security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the need to strengthen old alliances and build new partnerships with the nations of this region.

Prior to his public address, the U.S. president, on his first visit to Japan since taking office, held talks on Friday evening with Japanese Premier Yukio Hatoyama, during which the revitalizing and deepening of the alliance between the U.S. and Japan was discussed, as well as issues concerning the combating of global climate change.

A joint statement made by the two leaders following the meeting declared they had agreed on plans to cut their countries' greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and to support efforts by "the poor and most vulnerable" nations to combat climate change.

Hatoyama and Obama also agreed to make mutual and concerted efforts for the successful outcome of a key climate change conference in Copenhagen next month, during which a global conclusion on a renewed treaty, to succeed the existing Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, is expected to be reached.

In the 80-minute meeting, which was largely focused on the countries' security treaty, nuclear disarmament and global non-proliferation issues, as well as climate change, the burning, yet highly contentious issue of the relocating of a military base in Okinawa -- an issue that already weighs heavily on Japan's security ties with Washington -- was, as widely reported prior to the meeting, left largely undiscussed.

Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has avidly pushed the idea of moving the replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station out of Okinawa, or indeed out of Japan altogether (with Guam mentioned as a possible option for the relocation), in an effort to reduce the burden on base-hosting communities, an idea that has largely fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

Both leaders were in agreement that the two countries need to seek a speedy resolution on the issue through a new ministerial-level framework, although a timeframe for the resolution, which, for the DPJ and the Japanese people, is a highly emotive and consequential issue, was not mentioned.

On a lesser yet related issue, Obama did, however, assert his desire to see Tokyo abide by a 2006 deal stipulating that the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station be transferred by 2014 to a new facility to be built in another city in Okinawa, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

Although Hatoyama in previous statements has more than alluded to Japan becoming less reliant on the U.S. economically and seeking more autonomy and bilateral equality from Washington in its pursuance of a more unified (East) Asia, Hatoyama told Obama that his "East Asian community" concept is built on Japan-U.S. relations and expressed hope for the United States' increased presence in the region.

The two leaders also agreed that their countries should seek a "multilayered" alliance in which they work closely not just on military security but also on other issues, such as anti-disaster efforts, medicine and health, education and the environment.

Following Obama's meeting with Hatoyama on Friday, his keynote speech on Saturday told of a renewed American leadership dedicated to the pursuit of a new era of engagement with the world which will see the U.S. administration forging relationships that are based on mutual interests and mutual respect. In the Asia Pacific region specifically, he spoke passionately about the history of the Japan-U.S. alliance and how U.S. efforts in the area will be rooted in a long, robust and renewed alliance between the United States and Japan.

"In two months, our alliance will mark its 50th anniversary -- a day when President Dwight Eisenhower stood next to Japan's Prime Minister and said that our two nations were creating 'an indestructible partnership' based on equality and mutual understanding," said Obama.

"In the half century since, that alliance has endured as a foundation of our security and prosperity. It has helped us become the world's two largest economies, with Japan emerging as America's second-largest trading partner outside of North America. It has evolved as Japan has played a larger role on the world stage, and made important contributions to stability around the world from reconstruction in Iraq, to combating piracy off the Horn of Africa, to assistance for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan most recently through its remarkable leadership in providing additional commitments to international development efforts there," he continued.

"Above all, our alliance has endured because it reflects our common values -- a belief in the democratic right of free people to choose their own leaders and realize their own dreams; a belief that made possible the election of both Prime Minister Hatoyama and myself on the promise of change. And together, we are committed to providing a new generation of leadership for our people, and our alliance."

Obama also highlighted the significance of U.S. relations with other countries in the region and how these alliances directly influenced the prosperity and impacted the security of the everyday American.

"I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this region," said Obama. "Because what happens here has a direct affect on our lives at home. This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process."

"This is a place where the risk of a nuclear arms race threatens the security of the wider world, and where extremists who defile a great religion plan attacks on both our continents. And there can be no solution to our energy security and our climate challenge without the rising powers and developing nations of the Asia Pacific," he said.

"These alliances continue to provide the bedrock of security and stability that has allowed the nations and peoples of this region to pursue opportunity and prosperity that was unimaginable at the time of my first visit to Japan," the President said.

As China's surging economy, which has boasted an annual growth of around 9 percent and is poised to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy, is of key interest to Washington and whereas the U.S.'s perception of China had always been somewhat ambiguous, Obama was praising of China's prosperity and the positive effects it has had on reviving a sluggish economy in his Saturday's address.

Obama stated the U.S. intend to deepen the two nations' "strategic and economic dialogue," and move forward in a "spirit of partnership".

".. That is why we welcome China's efforts to play a greater role on the world stage -- a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility."

"China's partnership has proved critical in our effort to jumpstart economic recovery. China has promoted security and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it is now committed to the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the pursuit of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he continued.

"So the United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances. On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations. And so in Beijing and beyond, we will work to deepen our Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and improve communication between our militaries," Obama said.

Obama's speech traversed economic policy, although he is expected to provide a more detailed outlook in Singapore at the annual meeting of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the next leg of Obama's four-country Asian tour, which will also take him to China and South Korea.

Obama reiterated his views shared with Hatoyama on Friday regarding global nuclear proliferation and how the U.S. and Japan, more than any other nations, understand the severity and danger posed by nuclear weapons.

"Indeed, Japan serves as an example to the world that true peace and power can be achieved by taking this path. For decades, Japan has enjoyed the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy, while rejecting nuclear arms development and by any measure, this has increased Japan's security, and enhanced its position," the President said.

The magnanimous and superbly articulate U.S. President gave a very compelling speech about U.S. diplomacy in Asia, highlighting the strengths of existing alliances, particularly Japan's, and how important they are, not just to Washington but also to the world. He did not hesitate in saying there was still "more work to be done". His closing statement resonated with positivity about Washington's new approach to the Asia Pacific region and how the region itself is of monumental global importance.

"And there must be no doubt: as America's first Pacific President, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world," said Obama.

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