Japan's Abe seeks to show off alliance, gets Obama nod on Abenomics

Thu Feb 21, 2013 5:48am EST
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By Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - 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 abroad 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 the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. "One of the things he wants to achieve will be reinforcement of the Japan-U.S. alliance."

"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, who leaves for Washington 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 willing to negotiate 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) deal to avoid being left behind in global competition, but powerful farm lobby groups are opposed, dividing Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).   Continued...

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends an upper house budget committee session at the parliament in Tokyo February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai