* Abe seeks Obama nod on economic recipe despite weaker yen
* PM needs ambiguity on measures to join Trans-Pacific talks
* North Korea high on the agenda after latest nuclear test
By Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO, Feb 20 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
will be seeking to put a strong U.S.-Japan alliance on full
display in the face of potential threats from a nuclear North
Korea and an assertive China when he meets U.S. President Barack
Obama on Friday.
Abe, who has kept his ratings high since taking office in
December, also needs Obama's signoff on his economic revival
recipe of big spending and hyper-easy monetary policy.
Expectations for "Abenomics," especially drastic monetary
easing, have sliced about 10 percent off the yen's value against
the dollar since Abe took office, raising concern that Japan is
weakening its currency to export its way out of recession.
"The situation in East Asia is becoming more and more
precarious," said Mikitaka Masuyama, a professor at Tokyo's
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. "One of the
things he wants to achieve will be reinforcement of the
"It would be a successful trip for Abe if his economic
policy wins a nod from the U.S. side or at least if it is not
rejected outright," he added.
Abe, due to arrive in Washington late on Thursday, also
hopes to secure at least a wink and a nod from Obama that would
allow him to argue that Japan can negotiate special treatment
for politically sensitive sectors such as rice if it joins talks
on a U.S.-led free trade pact.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Reuters in an
interview on Wednesday that Tokyo must be open to negotiation on
all trade sectors, but did not rule out the possibility of
special treatment in the final deal.
Japan's big businesses wants it to join the Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) pact to avoid being left behind in global
competition, but powerful farm lobbies are opposed, dividing
Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Previewing the meeting, Michael Froman, Obama's adviser on
international economics, said the two leaders would review the
status of TPP consultations and insisted that Japan would be
expected to put everything "on the table" for negotiation as
other countries in the process have done.
Froman declined to say whether the president would raise
Japan's currency during the talks. But he told reporters: "The
U.S. and Japan have a shared interest in seeing stronger global
growth in the economy and we agree that no countries should
target currencies for competitive purpose or try to grow at the
expense of others."
SHOULDER TO SHOULDER
Aides say Abe's top priority for the visit, during which he
will hold a summit on Friday with Obama and deliver a policy
speech entitled "Japan is Back," is to repair an alliance they
argue was dented by the 2009-2012 rule of the Democratic Party
of Japan (DPJ).
"During the three years and three months of the Democratic
Party government, there was a great gap in the U.S.-Japan
alliance," said a close aide to Abe. "So the biggest objective
is to rebuild the alliance."
Outside experts agree the alliance suffered under the first
DPJ prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who tried unsuccessfully to
revise a deal to move a U.S. Marine air base to a sparsely
populated part of Japan's Okinawa island.
But Abe's immediate predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, did much to
repair the damage, they say.
The two leaders will spend time on the need for stronger
sanctions on North Korea and are likely to discuss beefed up
missile defence after Pyongyang's latest nuclear test last week.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said
they would consult on North Korea's "provocative acts" as part
of Washington's effort to reaffirm its commitment to Asian
allies while sending a message to Pyongyang that it will be held
responsible for its actions.
The hawkish Abe will also be hoping that putting a robust
alliance on display sends a signal to China not to escalate the
row over tiny islands in the East China Sea claimed by both
Japan and China.
"It is important for us to have them recognize that it is
impossible to try to get their way by coercion or intimidation.
In that regard, the Japan-U.S. alliance, as well as the U.S.
presence, would be critical," Abe told the Washington Post in an
Tension has raised fears of an unintended military incident
near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu
in China. Washington says the islets fall under a U.S.-Japan
security pact, but it is keen to avoid a clash in such an
economically vital region.
"No one wants to allow tensions ... to escalate," said Danny
Russel, Obama's Asia adviser.
The president "will value hearing the prime minister's
assessment and will welcome any and all constructive steps to
engage diplomatically and to manage the maritime situation in a
way that prevents the risk of miscalculation," he said.
Obama and Abe may also discuss cyber-security, the White
House said. U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned
amid growing reports of China's role in cyber-attacks on U.S.
government and corporate entities - something Beijing denies.
Abe is expected to come bearing one welcome gift - a promise
Japan will finally join an international treaty on cross-border
child custody disputes, known as The Hague Convention.
Japan has been the only member of the Group of Eight
advanced nations not to join the pact, despite pressure from the
United States and other countries.