Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will host this week’s Group of Seven summit. Before that he will meet US President Barack Obama who is on a farewell tour having already visited Vietnam. The choice of the two countries by Obama was not a random one.
On his week-long trip he faces ghosts from two wars with Vietnam and Japan. But the countries are now part of Washington’s sphere of influence. Beijing has been left out in the cold.
Last year the Japanese PM visited Washington where diplomatic language set the tone.
“I’m told there’s a phrase in Japanese culture that speaks to the spirit that brings us together today: with and for each other,” he said.
It was a phrase which many analysts believe was one to irritate China an affirmation that the US and Japan were “steadfast allies”.
The spirit which Obama quoted is about strengthening ties with countries in the region and sharing strategic, security and economic interests. It has been one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy.
Though ratification of the Trans-Pacific free trade agreement has stalled Obama is hopeful congress will act before he leaves office.
It was signed in February after five years of negotiations and brings together 12 countries representing 40 percent of the global economy. China is not a member.
And on the question of China, Obama and Abe could address the issues over territorial disputes in the South China Sea including the islands to which Beijing has laid claim.
Before leaving Vietnam he said that while the US is not among the countries engaged in a territorial dispute he promises to maintain freedom of navigation in the area, though he did not name China.
But the abiding image of the US president’s trip will come when he visits Hiroshima. He will be the first serving US president to go to the city which was devastated by a US atomic bomb on August 6 1945.
It will be a symbolic gesture. The president has reiterated, when asked that there will be no apology.
“No, because I think that it’s important to recognise that in the midst of war, leader make all kinds of decisions. Every leader makes difficult decisions, particularly during wartime,” he told a reporter.
As the president left Vietnam critics pointed that his action in lifting Washington’s ban on lethal weapons to the country had removed a powerful lever it had in pressing communist-ruled Vietnam for improvements in human rights.