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JPN: Obama touts 'strong alliance' after Japan revolution

By Shaun Tandon
Tue Sep 1 03:19:24 EST 2009
Mon Aug 31 17:19:24 UTC 2009

WASHINGTON, Aug 31 AFP - US President Barack Obama has called on Tokyo to maintain a strong alliance with Washington, while Asia-Pacific leaders have sought closer ties out of the historic shift in power after Japan's general election.

But Russia's politicians have sent mixed signals and analysts doubt Yukio Hatoyama's centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will change much in relations with Moscow, despite his professed desire to improve ties.

Hatoyama's party won a landslide victory in Sunday's election, ending five decades of almost permanent rule by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

Just after polls closed, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama "looks forward to working closely with the new Japanese prime minister.

"We are confident that the strong US-Japan alliance and the close partnership between our two countries will continue to flourish under the leadership of the next government in Tokyo," Gibbs said in a statement.

The US State Department said it hoped for early talks with Japan on issues ranging from North Korea's nuclear drive to the fight against global warming.

Hatoyama, while saying the US alliance would remain "the cornerstone" for Japan, has pledged to devote more attention to Asia and he has unnerved some by calling for a more independent Japan in an "era of multi-polarity".

North Korea, among the first to react to Hatoyama's win, offered no hint of reconciliation. The ruling communist party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, called on Japan to break with its "crooked" past and apologise for coercing Asian women to serve in its World War II brothels.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak congratulated Hatoyama, saying: "I am confident Japan will not only continue to develop under your and the DPJ's leadership, but will also greatly boost its contribution to the peace and joint development of the international community.

"I look forward to working closely with you on developing the Korea-Japan relationship into a solid, mature partnership."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said he would discuss new areas of cooperation when he telephones Hatoyama on Monday, said: "It is a most significant development in Japanese domestic politics."

A Russian foreign ministry statement welcomed his election, saying Moscow was ready to "strengthen cooperation with Tokyo on Asia-Pacific issues as well as the global agenda".

But while Hatoyama also backs warmer ties with Moscow, Russian politicians and analysts held out little hope he could instigate a breakthrough in a bitter territorial dispute that still poisons relations.

"Whether real progress follows this remains to be seen and I don't believe that this will happen quickly," Konstantin Kosachev, head of the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

Hatoyama was "significantly more flexible and more informed about the general context of Russian-Japanese relations" than his predecessors, he said.

"But at the start he will be limited in his efforts by conservative Japanese society. Everything will depend on his determination to stick to what he has said about re-examining our relations."

The two countries have yet to sign a peace agreement ending World War II because of the dispute over four islets north of Japan that were seized by Soviet troops in 1945.

In Europe, French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said: "As one of Asia's great democracies and the world's second economy, Japan is an essential and trustworthy partner for France.

"France will work with the new Japanese government to develop bilateral relations and search for answers to major global challenges," he added, without elaborating.

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard meanwhile said the historic power shift in Japan could give a boost to climate talks ahead of a key global warming summit in Copenhagen in December.

"The new party in power wants Japan to reduce its (CO2) emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels" and "if it respects (that campaign promise), it would be very good news for the climate," she said.

The December 7-18 summit aims to seal a new international accord on fighting climate change after the Kyoto protocol requirements expire in 2012.