WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has rolled out an exceptionally warm welcome mat for Japanese National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi, who visited the U.S. on Friday.
The hospitality shown to Yachi is intended to highlight the warming of relations between the two countries, which had cooled over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine in late December.
In particular, the reception is seen as a message to China, which is steadily expanding its influence in Asia. It also appears that the goodwill extended to Yachi and his delegation was designed encourage Abe to stay away from the shrine while in office.
Making a statement
Yasukuni honors Japan's war dead, including 14 class-A war criminals who were interred in 1978. Other Asian countries have seen the shrine
as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.
Yachi also met Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry. Although the
meeting with Rice was set in advance, the talks with Kerry and Hagel were surprises even for Yachi.
When asked by a reporter for Chinese media about the meeting with Kerry, Yachi said it had been "excellent."
This lineup of some of the U.S. government's top officials receiving Yachi is a sign of the importance Washington places on the
visit. The Japanese delegation set out to explain to the U.S. administration in person the intent of Abe's visit to Yasukuni.
Hirofumi Nakasone, president of bipartisan Japan-U.S. Parliamentary Friendship League was greeted by assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel. Nobuo Kishi, deputy foreign minister, who is also Abe's younger brother, was welcomed by Undersecretary of State Bill Burns.
What will the neighbors think?
Japan is a strategically important ally for the U.S., and a close relationship is essential for Washington's intentions in Asia.
Abe's visit to Yasukuni has been a cause of concern for the U.S. administration. However, it is also in the interests of both Tokyo and
Washington that wrinkles in this issue are smoothed out, especially in regards to keeping Beijing and Pyongyang in check.
Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that efforts by the U.S. to realize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and revise the policy on Japan-U.S. joint defense operations are not just in the interest of the U.S., but also Japan.
U.S. media largely associate Abe's paying of respects to Yasukuni with a resurgence of militarism in Japan. Another visit by Abe could
make Americans more wary of Japan's regional intentions. It would also likely encourage China to denounce Japan more. China has already used opinion pieces published in the Washington Post following the Yasukuni visit to criticize Japan. Another visit could also hurt Japan's relations with South Korea.
However, this message by the U.S. that Japan needs to mend frayed relations in Asia may not reach Tokyo. A member of the Diet from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has already noted that Republican White Houses never lashed over Yasukuni visits.