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May 30, 2017

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Japan-US alliance moves forward significantly

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the United States has underscored the vital importance of the alliance between our two nations. Military defense as well as economics is involved.

Growing nationalism is evident in Japan, and reflected in the prime minister's own public statements, but there is no wide support for any massive change in defense posture.

The substantial arms buildup by China receives continuing global attention and concern, along with the wider regional arms race, and ongoing maritime disputes. North Korea's often violent rhetoric, combined with nuclear weapons development, make that country a particularly dangerous wild card.

Last December U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Crater visited the new Izumo, Japan's largest military ship since World War II. Forces from Japan have been in the Indian Ocean in support of the NATO and United Nations military and economic mission in Afghanistan. This is the first time warships flying the Japanese flag have appeared in that part of the world since 1945.

Sustained trade negotiators between Japan and the U.S. seemed to be nearing success and then became stalled. In 2014, hopes were disappointed that negotiations would succeed before a trip by President Barack Obama to Japan. There was also frustration that an accord was not reached in time for Abe's trip to the United States in April-May 2015, though there was useful ceremonial discussion with President Obama and an address to a joint session of Congress.

The abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the U.S. has overshadowed, but only for a time, the steady growth of Pacific regional institutions for economic cooperation. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was created in 1967 and has growing influence.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group was conceived by Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1989. The initiative was embraced enthusiastically by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was clearly ending.

In the Atlantic region, NATO and the European Union can trace their origins back to the late 1940s and early 1950s respectively. By contrast, Asia lacks the same long-established framework of collaborative institutions.

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