Powell, Japanese foreign minister discuss Asian security
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Asian security issues were the main topic Friday as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.
China's growth, North Korea's missiles and a possible treaty between Japan and Russia were topics touched on during the 45-minute-long meeting, one of the first high-level diplomatic contacts Powell has made since taking his new post.
"It was no accident that Japan was one of the first meetings," one State Department official told CNN. "Japan is the cornerstone of our Asia policy."
Japan is concerned over the growth of China's economic and military power, U.S. officials said, and Friday's discussion focused on the importance of assisting China as a new member of the World Trade Organization.
But the need to "watch carefully what China is doing" on the military front was also discussed, they said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell stressed the importance of policy coordination with Japan and South Korea. Both the U.S. and Japan are encouraged by North Korea's recent openness toward the international community, though concerns linger about the North's missile program and troop presence on the Korean peninsula.
Powell "indicated we would proceed step-by-step as North Korea meets our concerns," said one senior State Department official.
U.S. military presence discussed
One sore spot in the U.S.-Japanese security relationship has been conflicts arising near U.S. military bases in Okinawa, where some U.S. military personnel have been convicted of molested teen-age girls, causing alarm among the Japanese.
Kono was expected to press Powell for more "flexibility and cooperation" in relocating some of the U.S. bases away from Okinawa.
State Department officials said that while Japan acknowledged the importance of the U.S. presence in the region as necessary for regional stability, they raised the concern about the situation.
"Powell acknowledged there are irritants," one State Department official said. "He expressed sensitivity of the concerns of the local people and pledged to minimize them."
Treaty with Russia?
Japan's desire to strike a peace treaty with Russia was also discussed, CNN learned.
The two sides have been unable to resolve a long-standing dispute over islands north of Japan, which has been under Soviet control since 1945.
Japan has been reluctant to sign a treaty with Russia until the islands are returned, but Russia, so far, has not budged.
"This is an issue of nationalism for both sides," one State Department official said. "The islands are not terribly valuable and don't contain a lot of natural resources. It is really just a question of sovereignty."
The United States has consistently supported Japan's position on the island dispute.
Japan's economy a concern
Friday's talks touched upon trade, as Japan is the United States third-largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico.
Officials say one of the concerns in the United States has been the near-negligible growth of Japan's economy. As a result, demand for American goods has been stagnant.
The United States has pressed Japan to deregulate its market, and has pushed for more foreign investment allowed in Japan.
U.S. officials say Japan has responded, offering some access to the new economy sectors. Controls in the pharmaceutical and financial services sectors have also been liberalized.
U.S. officials say they are quietly urging Japan toward economic reform, though the Japanese have been reluctant to "get publicly pushed around."
In his discussion with Kono, officials say Powell stressed the need for a new round of negotiations among World Trade Organization members. But the two did not talk in great depth about bilateral trade, officials said.
Whaling -- a bone of contention
They did, however, talk about whaling -- another area of contention between the two countries.
The United States has argued in the past that the amount of whales killed by Japan far exceed a reasonable level needed for research, the reason for which Japan has cited for its whaling.
The Japanese have claimed the United States has been too emotional about the issue.
Both sides have expressed a desire to take the issue out of the bilateral relationship and work within the international whaling commission to find a sustainable level of whaling.
Friday, January 26, 2001