WASHINGTON Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brought a clear message to Washington on Friday: "I am back and so is Japan."
It was the core theme of a speech prepared for delivery to a major U.S. think tank after meeting U.S. President Barack Obama on his first trip to Washington since taking office in December in a rare comeback to Japan's top job.
Abe, whose troubled first term ended after just one year when he abruptly quit in 2007, has vowed to revive Japan's economy with a mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, big spending, and structural reform. The hawkish leader is also boosting Japan's defense spending for the first time in 11 years.
"Japan is not, and will never be, a tier-two country," Abe said in a prepared draft of the speech. "So today ... I make a pledge. I will bring back a strong Japan, strong enough to do even more good for the betterment of the world."
The Japanese leader stressed that his "Abenomics" recipe would be good for the United States, China and other countries.
The yen has lost around 10 percent of its value against the dollar since Abe took office, sparking concerns that Japan is trying to export its way out of recession.
"Soon, Japan will export more, but it will import more as well," Abe said in the speech. "The U.S. will be the first to benefit, followed by China, India, Indonesia and so on."
Abe reiterated that Japan would not bow to challenges to its sovereignty over tiny islets in the East China Sea that Tokyo controls but Beijing also claims. However, he said he did not want to escalate tensions in the territorial row with China.
"No nation should underestimate the firmness of our resolve. No one should every doubt the robustness of the Japan-U.S. alliance," the draft speech said. "At the same time, I have absolutely no intention of climbing up the escalation ladder ... The doors are always open on my side for the Chinese leaders."
At the White House, Abe told reporters Japan would deal with the dispute calmly.
"I explained that we have always been dealing with this issue ... in a calm manner," he said through a translator, while sitting next to Obama in the Oval Office.
"We will continue to do so and we have always done so," Abe said.
The United States says the islands - known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China - fall under a U.S.-Japan security pact. But Washington is keen to avoid being dragged into any military clash over them and has signaled that it wants both sides to resolve the row peacefully.
Abe repeated that Japan would not provide any aid for North Korea unless it abandons its nuclear and missile programs and releases Japanese citizens abducted decades ago to help train spies.
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. Five have been sent home, but Japan wants better information about eight who Pyongyang says are dead and others Tokyo believes were also kidnapped.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Paul Eckert; Editing by David Brunnstrom)