Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared more positive about Japan joining talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement, saying high-level negotiations could lead to exemptions that many ruling party members are demanding.
"The TPP's significance will depend on whether Japan, which has the (world’s) third-largest gross domestic product, will join it," Abe said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 20 ahead of his first visit to the United States since returning as prime minister in December.
Abe, who will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Feb. 22, said the trip will demonstrate to the world that Japan-U.S. ties have recovered, a top priority of Abe’s administration.
"Regretfully, Asian nations have come to perceive the Japan-U.S. alliance as failing," Abe said. "It is extremely important to show the world that Japan-U.S. ties are back to what they used to be."
During the campaign for the Lower House election in December, Abe criticized the "diplomatic defeat" of the then ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Soon after the DPJ took over the government in 2009, ties between Tokyo and Washington started to fray, mainly over the delay in the agreed-upon relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture.
"I want to tell (Obama) that a revival of an (economically) powerful Japan has positive consequences for Japan-U.S. relations,” Abe said. “With defense spending increasing for the first time in 11 years, Japan will be fulfilling its own responsibility in the Asia-Pacific region. Tokyo will not just be asking Washington to do it a favor, but it will be doing what it can do on its own. Sending that kind of message will help reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance."