The US president landed in Tokyo on Wednesday and quickly set the tone for his week-long tour of Asia in a broad-ranging question-and-answer session with the Yomiuri Shimbun. The following are excerpts from the session:
Asian allies of the United States very much appreciate the “Asia rebalance strategy” of the Obama administration. What are the core objectives of the policy, and what do you think China is aiming at when it advocates a “new type of major-power relations”?
America is and always will be a Pacific nation, and at my direction the United States is once again playing a leading role in the region, in close partnership with allies like Japan. We seek security, where international law and norms are upheld and disputes are resolved peacefully. We seek prosperity, where trade and investment leads to broad-based economic growth and nations play by the same rules. We seek respect for fundamental freedoms and universal human rights, because we believe in the inherent dignity of every human being.
Our strategy is a long-term commitment to this region and its people, and I’m proud of our progress so far. Our alliances, including with Japan, are stronger than ever and we’re modernising our defence posture across the region. Our trade is growing and we’re working to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We’re deepening our ties with emerging powers like China, India and Indonesia. We’re more closely engaged with regional institutions like Asean and the East Asia Summit. We’re standing with citizens, including the people of Burma, as they work toward a democratic future.
With regard to China, the new model of relations we seek between our two countries is based on my belief that we can work together on issues of mutual interest, both regionally and globally, and that both our nations have to resist the danger of slipping into conflict, which is not inevitable. For example, both the United States and China have an interest in the global economic recovery, the denuclearisation of North Korea and addressing climate change. In other words, we welcome the continuing rise of a China that is stable, prosperous and peaceful and plays a responsible role in global affairs. And our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.
At the same time, the United States is going to deal directly and candidly with China on issues where we have differences, such as human rights. I’ve also told President Xi that all our nations have an interest in dealing constructively with maritime issues, including in the East China Sea. Disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion. The policy of the United States is clear – the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.
The US and Japan are in the final phase of negotiations on the TPP. How will the agreement contribute to the economic growth of Asia-Pacific and the US? Also, what do you expect most from “Abenomics”?
The Asia-Pacific is already the fastest-growing region in the global economy, but there are still tariffs, barriers and practices throughout the region that limit trade and investment and which prevent our economies from reaching their full potential. Given the millions of jobs that are sustained by commerce between our nations, even a small increase in trade would yield important gains for our workers and businesses. Japan’s entry into the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership gave added hope that TPP can be the driving force for greater economic integration across the region.
I know the Trans-Pacific Partnership has prompted debate in Japan, as it has in the United States, and I’ve made it clear that any agreement has to include strong protections for labour and the environment. As this debate goes forward, I believe our citizens will recognise the important benefits the TPP can deliver for all our countries, including the United States and Japan. By reducing tariffs and other barriers, it would open more markets to our goods, boost our exports, and help make our businesses more competitive in the global economy. TPP will also help protect our businesses against unfair competition from state-owned enterprises and it will improve the protection of our intellectual property in a digital world. Put simply, TPP will help support jobs and growth in all our countries and give an added boost to America and Japan’s economic revitalisation.
Of course, in order to realise the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all our nations will have to live up to our commitment to reaching a high-standard agreement and make important decisions, some of them difficult. It won’t be easy. But I’m absolutely convinced that the benefits to our workers, businesses and our economies as a whole make TPP a clear win for all our countries. In addition, TPP will reinforce the important structural reforms that Prime Minister Abe is pursuing and thereby help unleash greater growth in Japan over the long term. TPP can be a foundation for more jobs and growth in our countries for decades to come.
The Abe administration is attempting to revise its interpretation of the Japanese Constitution to exercise the right to “collective self-defence”, which would enable Japan to support US military activities when it comes to Asian security. How would you evaluate the policy change in terms of its contribution to the US-Japan alliance?
Decisions about the Japanese constitution, of course, belong to the people and leaders of Japan. I would simply say that the United States has the greatest respect for the service and professionalism of the Japanese Self Defence Forces. Our militaries train and exercise together and we’re both stronger for it. Our forces worked together as part of the humanitarian efforts after the typhoon in the Philippines. Japanese peacekeepers serve with courage in United Nations missions around the world. The world is better off because of Japan’s long-standing commitment to international peace and security.
That is why we have enthusiastically welcomed Japan’s desire to play a greater role in upholding international security. I commend Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to strengthen Japan’s defence forces and to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defence. We believe that it’s in the interest of both our countries for Japanese Self Defence Forces to do more within the framework of our alliance. Likewise, UN peacekeeping missions would benefit from even greater Japanese participation. We very much appreciate Tokyo’s outreach to other nations, including sending officials to foreign capitals to explain Japan’s evolving defence policies. In fact, Japan’s efforts are a model of the transparency and dialogue with neighbours that we need more of in the region.
North and South Korea
North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile systems. What does the United States expect from Japan and South Korea in terms of cooperation in the face of Pyongyang’s provocative actions?
North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes are a threat to our allies Japan and South Korea, a threat to the region, and increasingly a direct threat to the security of the United States. In the past, the North thought its provocations could drive a wedge between our three countries. Instead, in recent years the United States, Japan and South Korea have stood united, deepened our trilateral cooperation and made it clear to Pyongyang that the days when its threats would elicit concessions are over. Today, North Korea is more isolated than ever.
This was the message of our trilateral summit last month in the Netherlands on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. By meeting together, Prime Minister Abe, President Park and I were able to demonstrate the unity and shared determination of our three nations. And our solidarity is going to continue. Any North Korean provocation – such as its recent missile launches – will be met with a unified response by our three nations. The commitment of the United States to the security of Japan and South Korea will remain unwavering. And we are going to continue to deepen our diplomatic and military cooperation and move ahead with the modernisation of our alliances, including joint exercises and missile defence.
Moreover, we’re going to stand firm in our insistence that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable. The burden is on Pyongyang to take concrete steps to abide by is commitments and obligations, and the United States, Japan and South Korea are united in our goal – the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. I would add that, even as we face the nuclear threat from North Korea, we remain deeply concerned about the desperate plight of the people of North Korea as well as other humanitarian issues, as Prime Minister Abe mentioned at our trilateral summit. We will never stop working for the day when all the people of the Korean peninsula can live in security, peace and freedom.