On Tuesday, February 24th, President Obama met Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso in the Oval Office of the White House. Prime Minister Taro Aso was the first foreign leader to meet with President Obama since he took office in January. This meeting was a key meeting for both men as President Obama needs to strengthen ties with Japan due to it being an important part of US security policy in East Asia, and President Tara Aso needs to shore up support at home and strengthen US-Japan relations. Japan is now in the midst of its worst economic crisis in more than 50 years, and President Aso’s approval rating is down below 10%. Japan has also been concerned in recent years that the US is positioning itself closer to China. China is likely to become the world’s largest economy within the next 25 years, and this is also a threat to Japan’s economic future.
The meeting in the Oval Office was a chance for both men to talk about what is important between the two countries – namely security issues and economic issues. Japan is one of the world’s top three economies, but has had economic problems for the last decade. It’s only within the last two years that Japan’s economy started to improve after more than a decade of near stagnation. Now, with their economy back in the doldrums, Japan again faces economic difficulties it thought it had managed to shake off.
As far as security goes, it’s important to Japan that they keep strong ties with the US because of security dangers like North Korea. Japan has had hundreds of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents over the last 30 years and has had limited success in getting them returned. Only with continued US pressure does Japan feel this situation will remain in the forefront of world consciousness. Under George Bush, North Korea was removed from a list of US terrorist states, which angered Japan, so they hope improved relations with the US through President Obama will have a happier outcome for their kidnapped citizens.
Japan has also worked closely with the US to try to ensure that North Korea is not able to begin building nuclear weapons, a situation that would be disastrous for Japan and the rest of Asia. As someone who currently lives in Asia, I can only add my voice to the millions of people who believe a nuclear North Korea would be one of the biggest threats to the region.
For President Obama, another important reason why Japan should be seen as a close ally is that Japan is only second to China as the largest holder of US Treasury Bonds. These bonds finance the US budge deficit and keep American interest rates low, which also fuels US growth. Should Japan decide they no longer have use for US Treasury Bonds, this could plummet the US into a recession even worse than what we are already seeing. Japan is also one of the largest export markets for American products, a fact many Japanese leaders have pointed out. So President Obama needs to make sure that Japan’s export market remains open and free, so a large part of the US economy is not affected negatively.
Overall, the meeting on Tuesday between the two leaders was positive. Both leaders were photographed similing broadly and conversation seemed to be lively and Hopefully, it will serve as a beginning for renewed ties with the US and Japan, as both countries would benefit markedly. Since World War Two, Japanese-American relations have continued to improve. With Obama’s first meeting with a foreign leader being President Aso, this did signal his hopes that Japan would continue to play an important part in US foreign and economic policy. However, his administration also made it clear they would seek a good relationship with Japan no matter who was in the office of Prime Minister, a fact that probably didn’t escape beleagured Prime Minister Aso.
Japanese Prime Minister Aso To Meet Barack Obama in Washington – Welt Online
Welcoming the Japanese PM To The Oval Office – White House Blog