Obama will stay here through Friday and will hold a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with the focus on the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks, Xinhua reported.
The two nations are at odds over Japan’s reluctance to remove its tariffs imposed on US agricultural products. The US has called on Japan to lift all tariffs on rice, wheat, pork and beef, sugar and dairy, which Japan sees as its key items, so as to conclude the free trade talks at an early date.
Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of TPP issues, said Tuesday that Japan and the US would not announce a broad bilateral trade pact during the Abe-Obama summit, saying “there is still a considerable distance” in reaching an agreement.
The visit by Obama comes after Abe and his cabinet members, as well as about 150 Japanese lawmakers, paid visits to the controversial war-linked Yasukuni shrine earlier this week during the shrine’s spring festival.
On the first anniversary of the launch of Abe’s cabinet Dec 26, 2013, the prime minister visited the shrine, which honours 14 convicted Class-A World War II war criminals and is seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Abe said many times that he wanted to show the world a robust Japan-US alliance during Obama’s visit but the bilateral defence ties were affected over the issue of relocating the Futenma airbase in Japan’s southernmost island prefecture of Okinawa.
The central government, despite local residents’ opposition, has agreed to move the airbase within the prefecture to Nago city, but the mayor of Nago, an opponent of the relocation plan, said he would use his powers as mayor to block the plan.
On the controversial issue of Japan exercising its right of collective defence, Abe hoped to gain more support from the US, which has already welcomed the move. The move, however, goes contrary to Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.
Late Wednesday, a group of Japanese rallied in front of Abe’s official residence to protest against Obama’s visit to Japan, saying the Japan-US military alliance has threatened regional peace and stability as the two sides are beefing up their military might.
Obama will also visit South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines during the course of his trip.