Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been seeking to display
the alliance was strong in the face of a rising China, but their
success in putting recent strains behind them was partly marred by a
failure to reach a deal seen as crucial to a broader regional trade
That failure delayed a joint statement on security and economic ties
until shortly before the U.S. leader left for Seoul, the next stop
on his week-long, four-nation Asian tour.
Obama and Abe had ordered their top aides to make a final push to
reach a trade agreement after the leaders met on Thursday, but
Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters that gaps remained
despite recent progress.
"This time we can't say there's a basic agreement," Amari told
reporters after a second day of almost around-the-clock talks failed
to settle differences over farm products and cars. "Overall, the
gaps are steadily narrowing."
Seeking to put a positive spin on the trade front, the two sides
said in their statement that they were committed to taking "bold
steps" to reach a two-way deal, which would inject momentum into a
delayed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.
A senior U.S. trade official said the two sides had achieved a
breakthrough on market access, but provided few details.
"There are still details to be worked out. There is still much work
to be done ... We believe we do have a breakthrough in our bilateral
negotiations," said the senior official accompanying Obama to South
The TPP is high on Abe's economic reform agenda and central to
Obama's policy of expanding the U.S. presence in Asia.
Obama on Thursday assured Japan that Washington was committed to
coming to its defense, including of tiny isles at the heart of a row
with China, but denied he had drawn any new "red line" and urged
peaceful dialogue over the dispute.
Friday's joint statement echoed those comments and put in writing a
long-held U.S. stance that the uninhabited islands in the East China
Sea are covered by a security treaty that obliges Washington to
Those comments drew a swift rebuke from Beijing, which also claims
sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled islands, known as the
Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. Japanese and Chinese
patrol ships have been playing cat-and-mouse near the isles, and
Washington is wary of being drawn into any clash.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had "serious
concerns" about some of the contents of the joint statement.
"We urge the United States and Japan to abandon their Cold War
mentality, and respect the concerns and interests of other countries
in the region, and avoid further interference with regional peace
and stability," he told a daily news briefing.
The allies also said they wanted to build productive ties with China
but expressed concern about its Air Defense Identification Zone
covering the disputed isles, announced last year, as well as
activities fanning tensions in the South China Sea, where other
Asian countries have rows with Beijing.
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"Our two countries oppose any attempt to assert territorial or
maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force,"
the statement said.
The diplomatic challenge for Obama during his
week-long, regional tour is to convince Asian partners that
Washington is serious about its promised strategic pivot, without
harming U.S. ties with China, the world's second-biggest economy.
Beijing has painted the "pivot" as effort to contain the rising
Abe, who returned to office in 2012 pledging to boost Japan's
security stance and tighten ties with the United States, hailed the
joint statement as "historic" and said a "key milestone" had been
reached in the trade talks.
A Japanese government official, however, told Reuters that the trade
stalemate had delayed issuance of the broader statement until just
before Obama's departure.
"They (the U.S. side) wanted to delay the statement until we
finished TPP," a Japanese official said.
"Of course, TPP was not finished. It is still ongoing." But he added
that there were some "meaningful discussions".
The senior U.S. official accompanying Obama said the two sides had
"identified a pathway to market access" in the politically tricky
agriculture and autos sectors.
Obama's three-day stay in Tokyo — the first full state visit by a
U.S. president since 1996 — was meant to show that the U.S.-Japan
alliance, the main pillar of America's security strategy in Asia, is
solid at a time of rising tensions over growing Chinese
assertiveness and North Korean nuclear threats.
But the trade squabbling risked leaving something of a bitter taste,
despite the pomp and circumstance of a stay that included a formal
dinner hosted by the emperor and a casual meal with Abe at an
upscale sushi restaurant.
Asked about the summit, Finance Minister Taro Aso told a news
conference that Obama did not have the clout to get consensus in the
United States and that a deal was unlikely at least until after the
U.S. mid-term Congressional elections in November.
(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Antoni Slodkowski, Mark
Felsenthal and Billy Mallard, and Michael Martina in Beijing;
editing by Alex Richardson)
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