Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his positive stance on his country's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks during a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in Cambodia on Tuesday, despite lingering domestic opposition.

During their 25-minute meeting on the sidelines of a series of summits between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its dialogue partners, Noda and Obama also exchanged views on maritime security in Asia, Japanese officials said.

Confirming that the two countries will deepen their alliance and enhance cooperation to ensure stability in Asia, Noda and Obama touched on Japan-China relations and Beijing's ambitions to increase its dominance in the South China Sea, they said. The two leaders last met in late April in Washington.

Noda told reporters after meeting with Obama in Phnom Penh, "We hope to speed up talks to overcome issues between Japan and the United States" toward Japan's entry into the U.S.-led TPP negotiations.

Obama showed his understanding of Japan's stance on the TPP talks, the Japanese officials said.

Noda's remarks came as some U.S. industries oppose Japan's participation in the trade talks, with the automobile industry arguing Japanese regulations have barred foreign carmakers from penetrating the market and that the bilateral trade imbalance will widen if Japan joins the tariff-cutting framework.

Japan's premier apparently aimed to accelerate talks with Washington on the trade framework before the next round of the TPP negotiations involving 11 countries, which will be held in December in New Zealand.

Noda, who dissolved the House of Representatives on Friday, has already decided to stipulate Japan's entry into the TPP talks in his Democratic Party of Japan's policy pledges for the general election on Dec. 16.

In his policy speech for the extraordinary Diet session on Oct. 29, Noda proposed moving ahead with talks toward participation in the TPP, describing it as serving the national interest.

Japan has been holding consultations with the TPP negotiating members, including Australia and the United States. But Noda has yet to make a formal announcement on Japan's participation due in part to opposition from the farm sector, which fears an influx of cheaper produce from overseas under lowered tariffs.

The TPP initiative currently involves 11 nations -- the United States, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Canada and Mexico.

On the security front, Noda welcomed and confirmed Washington's policy of placing importance on the Asia-Pacific region, congratulating Obama on his reelection, the Japanese officials said.

"As the security environment in East Asia is severe, the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance has increased more than ever. We hope to develop the alliance while moving forward concrete cooperation," Noda was quoted by the officials as telling Obama.

During the summit, Noda emphasized the significance of international law in resolving rows in the South China Sea, the officials said, suggesting Japan's concern over China's rapid expansion of its naval capacity in resource-rich Asian waters.

Without specifically naming China, Noda told Obama that matters related to the South China Sea are a "common concern for the international community," they said.

Tokyo has no direct interest in territorial claims in the South China Sea, but it is eager to help Southeast nations resolve disputes peacefully amid Japan's tensions with China over conflicting sovereignty claims over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Noda said he told Obama that Japan is dealing with issues related to China "in a calm manner," with the Japanese officials quoting the premier as saying the Japan-China relationship is "one of the most important bilateral relationships for Japan."

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been strained since Japan's purchase in September of three of the Senkaku Islands from their Japanese owner. The uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, are administrated by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.

In April, Noda and Obama issued a joint statement after their summit in Washington, calling the Japan-U.S. alliance "the cornerstone of peace, security and stability" in the region.

Noda, meanwhile, told reporters that he referred to recent incidents involving U.S. military personnel in Okinawa Prefecture, including the alleged rape of a Japanese woman by two U.S. sailors in October, urging Obama to take measures to prevent such incidents.

November 20, 2012

Source: Kyodo News