TOKYO, April 23 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday arrived in Japan, the first leg of his four-nation Asia trip.
U.S. President Barack Obama steps from the Air Force One as he arrives in Tokyo, Japan on April 23, 2014. Obama began a four-country trip through the Asia-Pacific region on Wednesday. (Xinhua/Liu Tian)
Obama will stay here through Friday and will hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a focus on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks.
The two nations are at odds over Japan's reluctance to remove its tariffs imposed on U.S. agricultural products. The United States has called on Japan to lift all tariffs on rice, wheat, pork and beef, sugar and dairy, which Japan sees as its key items, so as to conclude the free talks at an early date.
Akira Amari, Japan's minister in charge of TPP issues, said Tuesday that Japan and the United States would not announce a broad bilateral trade pact during the Abe-Obama summit, saying " there is still a considerable distance" to reach an agreement.
The visit by Obama came after Abe and his cabinet members, as well as about 150 Japanese lawmakers, made offering or paid visits to the controversial war-linked Yasukuni Shrine earlier this week during the notorious shrine's spring festival.
On the first anniversary of the launch of Abe's cabinet on Dec. 26, 2013, the prime minister visited the shrine, which honors 14 convicted Class-A WWII war criminals and is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, and the move triggered criticism from the U.S. side as Japan's key ally asked the country to mend ties with neighboring countries.
Abe said many times that he wanted to show the world a robust Japan-U.S. alliance during Obama's visit, but the bilateral defense ties were scratched due to the issue of relocating the Futenma airbase in Japan's southernmost island prefecture of Okinawa.
The central government, despite local residents' opposition, has agreed to move the airbase within the prefecture to Nago city, but Nago mayor, an opponent of the relocation plan, said he will use mayor power to block the plan.
On the controversial issue of Japan's exercising rights of collective defense, Abe also hoped to gain more supports from the United States, which already showed its welcome to the move which, however, goes contrary to Japan's war-renouncing constitution.
Late Wednesday, a group of Japanese rallied in front of Abe's official residence to protest against Obama's visit to Japan, saying the Japan-U.S. military alliance has threatened regional peace and stability as the two sides are beefing up their military muscles.
The trip will also bring Obama to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.