In many ways, the timing of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Friday visit to Washington and talks with President Obama couldn't be better for both leaders.
The U.S. and Japan are eager to show solidarity in response to North Korea's test of a nuclear device at an underground site last week. The visit also helps highlight Mr. Obama's second-term push to shift resources and diplomatic attention to the Pacific Rim and away from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Right now Mr. Abe, the first of a revolving-door of recent Japanese prime ministers to enjoy strong popularity in his country, undoubtedly will be looking to Mr. Obama for support in Japan's ongoing dispute with China over sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and islands there.
Cybersecurity and guarding against China's theft of trade secrets -- a concern to both countries -- also will be on the agenda, along with consultations on Japan's potential interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade alliance including the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.
The visit "underscores the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance as the foundation of U.S. strategy in Asia, both in terms of our security posture and in terms of our economic relationships in that dynamic and growing region of the world," Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters Thursday.
The two leaders will meet for the first time in the Oval Office, hold a joint news conference and have lunch together.
Since winning by a landslide and taking office in December, Mr. Abe has fulfilled a campaign promise to improve the economy by weakening the yen and increasing the competitiveness of Japanese exports
He is Japan's seventh leader in six years and the first in more than a decade to see his popularity rise after the first month in office -- and he wants to keep bucking the trend. Coming out with a strong response to North Korea's nuclear testing could help solidify his domestic popularity and ensure a longer tenure than his recent predecessors.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Abe spoke by phone last week and pledged to work closely together and seek "significant action" against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council, according to a White House readout of the call.
During that call, Mr. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to defending Japan against an attack, including by nuclear means, and he likely will reiterate that pledge publicly Friday, although the White House has no plans to announce anything specific.
"Our response to the North Korean nuclear test and its broader pattern of provocative acts must start with very firm U.S. commitment to the security of our allies, Japan and South Korea," Mr. Rhodes said.
While Mr. Abe can expect a warm reception at the White House and throughout Washington, some members of Congress are using his visit as a chance to remind him of some of Japan's darker legacies.
Reps. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat, and Steve Israel, New York Democrat, penned a letter to Japan's ambassador Wednesday expressing "serious concern" about Mr. Abe's reported interest in revisiting -- and possibly retracting -- the 1993 statement by the Japanese government apologizing for the forced sexual servitude during World War II of nearly 200,000 women from Korea, China and other countries occupied by the Japanese army.
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