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Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005

Koizumi, Bush stress strong ties

Staff writer

KYOTO -- U.S. President George W. Bush, in reaffirming his close personal ties Wednesday with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, praised the latter's recent election win as a model for democracy and underscored that the close Japan-U.S. relationship is important for all of Asia and beyond.

News photo
U.S. President George W. Bush smiles as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi points at the sun during a stroll through the grounds of Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, while head priest Raitei Arima looks on.

Bush also upheld Taiwan as a model for democracy, getting China's attention.

Meeting in the ancient capital of Kyoto, the two leaders visited Kinkakuji Temple, the Golden Pavilion, early in the morning before sitting down for about an hour to discuss the U.S. troop realignment in Japan, the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq and the resumption of U.S. beef imports, among other topics.

"The U.S. is our most indispensable ally. The better our bilateral relations, the easier it is to establish better relations with other countries," Koizumi said at a joint news conference Wednesday afternoon following their meeting.

The president, in turn, offered praise for the prime minister's decision to call a snap election last August, and called him a model democratic leader.

"Congratulations on winning the recent election in a way that confirms democracy," Bush said.

But even as they praised the bilateral relationship, both leaders had strong words for China. Koizumi addressed critics both in Japan and East Asia who claim that, since becoming prime minister in 2001, he has placed too much emphasis on the relationship with the U.S. at the expense of relations with Asia.

"There is no such thing as the U.S.-Japan relationship being too close. . . . It is easier to have better relations with South Korea and China if we have better relations with the U.S.," he said.

Bush, who was in Japan for about 24 hours before going on to South Korea Wednesday evening, provoked the anger of China when, in a speech earlier in the day, he praised Japan, South Korea and Taiwan as model democracies. The Chinese Foreign Ministry immediately responded by saying the U.S. must honor the "one China" agreement.

"Societies become more stable as they give more say to their people. What I will say to China and other countries is that a free society is in your interest. We support the one-China policy, and neither side should change the status quo," Bush said at the news conference in an attempt to clarify his remarks.

In a briefing by the Japanese government, officials said Bush told Koizumi it was clear China was becoming a huge regional player, and asked about Japan-China relations.

Koizumi replied that although there were many problems between the two countries, the relationship was strengthening economically, with increased Japanese investment in China. Koizumi also told Bush that Japan sees China as an economic opportunity rather than a threat, the officials said.

While long on good feelings and declarations of mutual support, the meeting Wednesday produced no specific commitments from Japan to address two issues of particular concern to the United States: faster progress from the government on finalizing a report due out next March on realignment of U.S. bases in Japan, and an early resumption of U.S. beef imports, which have been banned since 2003.

Asked at the news conference about opposition in Okinawa, Kanagawa Prefecture and elsewhere to the agreement reached between Tokyo and Washington last month on an interim report on forces realignments within Japan, the prime minister urged communities to consider the benefits both they and the country obtain from the U.S. bases.

"If you're asked if you're 'for' or 'against' bases, you'll say 'against.' But you have to look at the situation in the context in which the economy can grow. For that growth to occur, you have to pay a certain cost. Communities are enjoying the benefits of the Japan-U.S. alliance, and they should think about those benefits," Koizumi said.

However, the prime minister added that convincing local governments not to oppose the realignment will require some time.

For his part, Bush placed responsibility for carrying out the agreement squarely on Tokyo, and did not seem particularly worried that the issue could drag on indefinitely.

"We negotiated in good faith with Japan, and we're confident Japan will work out its problems," he said.

Prior to the summit, there had been speculation about what would happen next year regarding the deployment of Self-Defense Forces troops in Iraq. While Koizumi has indicated he will extend the mission, which ends next month, there were reports that the Ground Self-Defense Force troops stationed in Samawah would be brought home by the time his term ends next September. Koizumi sidestepped a question on what will happen after the December deadline.

"Japan needs to seriously consider what it should do to be of assistance in Iraq. We have to take all things into consideration and make a decision," he said.

The two leaders also briefly discussed North Korea. Koizumi told the president that while Japan considered North Korea's nuclear threat a grave problem that needs to be solved, the issue of Japanese abducted to North Korea was also important. Bush said the U.S. shared Japan's concern over the issue.

The two leaders also discussed the issue of resuming U.S. beef imports to Japan, which were banned in December 2003 after a case of made cow disease was discovered in the United States. Bush said he was pleased to see a panel of scientists from Japan's Food Safety Commission said the risk of mad cow disease in American beef was extremely low.

With avian flu worries growing in Asia, particularly China, Bush said that cooperation in preventing a pandemic was an issue the two leaders agreed upon. He said he would bring it up again at the APEC meeting in South Korea in a few days.

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The Japan Times

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