Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is heading to the United States for a Washington summit. He and President Bush are expected to discuss the prospect of closer cooperation, and a more robust regional security role for Tokyo. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left for the United States Thursday, along with a delegation of dozens of Japanese business leaders. He is scheduled to meet with President Bush Friday at the Camp David retreat.
Earlier this year, Abe called the U.S.-Japan alliance "a foundation of peace in Asia and the world." About 50,000 United States forces are stationed in Japan to ensure regional stability.
Professor Gregory Clark, emeritus president of Tokyo's Tama University, says Abe is hoping to make the alliance even stronger.
"I think he's prepared to offer some significant concessions... for greater cooperation between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the American military," he said.
Japan has already boosted its military cooperation with the United States - providing, for example, logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Mr. Abe hopes to revise Tokyo's constitution - drafted by the United States after Japan's World War Two defeat - which prohibits Tokyo from using its military in anything but a purely defensive role.
Like President Bush, Mr. Abe draws his primary support from his country's right-wing conservative voters. Clark says the two leaders also share concerns over the emergence of China as a military superpower.
"The basic feeling here in Japan is that China is getting more and more powerful while Japan is still fairly stagnant - that they desperately need to tie up with America to counter China's power," Clark explained.
This is Mr. Abe's first trip as prime minister to the U.S. But he broke with decades of tradition by making his first diplomatic trip in office to China - an attempt, experts say, to soothe an irritated relationship with Beijing. Japan and China have several decades-old disputes over island territories and economic rights in the north Pacific.
China also says Japan has not sufficiently made amends for atrocities it committed during World War II - a criticism which is also widely heard from leaders here on the Korean peninsula, which was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945.
Mr. Abe is expected to discuss the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons development with President Bush. Japan and the United States are partners, along with Russia, China, and South Korea, in multinational diplomacy to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. North Korea missed a deadline to shut down its main nuclear facility last month amid an ongoing financial dispute.