TOKYO - The Japanese and U.S. governments are making final arrangements for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama to reaffirm that the bilateral security treaty covers the Japan-administered Senkaku islets in the East China Sea, a source close to Japan-U.S. ties said Wednesday.
Obama, who arrived in Tokyo Wednesday evening for a state visit, is expected to declare at a joint press conference with Abe after their summit Thursday that the security pact will apply to the Senkakus, which are claimed by China, in a move likely to trigger more criticism from Beijing.
China has already been irked by similar remarks by Obama in an interview, ahead of his arrival in Tokyo, with a major Japanese daily published Wednesday.
"The Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security," Obama said in a written reply to the Yomiuri Shimbun, according to the White House.
He became the first U.S. president to stipulate that the Senkakus are covered by the pact. Article 5 of the treaty obligates the United States to defend Japan if it comes under an armed attack.
According to the source, Tokyo is asking Washington that this point will be reflected in the two leaders' joint statement to be issued after their talks, the source said.
Abe and Obama are also set to confirm that they will not tolerate any attempt to alter the status quo by force or coercion, taking into account China's growing assertiveness at sea and Russia's alleged involvement with the unrest in eastern Ukraine, the source said.
During the summit, ways to boost defense cooperation and ongoing negotiations for a Pacific free trade initiative will also be among key topics.
Obama will discuss with Abe "the modernization of our security alliance," Ben Rhodes, deputy U.S. national security adviser, said, referring to the work on following up on a bilateral agreement to revise defense cooperation guidelines within this year so that both countries can better deal with issues related to North Korea.
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, Akira Amari, Japanese TPP minister, and Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, held talks in Tokyo to make last-ditch efforts to bridge the remaining gaps on market access before the Abe-Obama meeting.
On the eve of their summit, Abe and Obama had a private dinner at a sushi restaurant in central Tokyo.
After talks with Abe, Obama will attend a youth event at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, known as Miraikan in Tokyo's waterfront area, and attend an evening banquet at the Imperial Palace with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
The Japanese government invited Obama for what is the first state visit by a U.S. president in 18 years, but first lady Michelle Obama is not accompanying her husband. Obama came to Japan in November 2010 last time.
Obama, who is on a four-nation trip to Asia, will explain the U.S. intention to focus on the Asia-Pacific, a policy described as "rebalancing," during talks with Abe and the leaders of South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, U.S. government officials said.
Obama's trip to Tokyo and the second leg of his Asia tour, to Seoul, come after he brokered a meeting between Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye in The Hague last month.
After moving to Seoul on Friday, Obama will discuss with Park their efforts "to stand up to the provocative acts from the North Koreans" and the implementation of a bilateral free trade pact, according to Rhodes.
Obama will offer his condolences to South Koreans affected by the recent ferry disaster, which left some 150 people confirmed dead and 152 still missing as of Wednesday.
As the first sitting U.S. president to visit Malaysia in nearly half a century, Obama will discuss with Prime Minister Najib Razak "a growing economic and commercial relationship" with the country in their summit on Sunday, Rhodes said.
The TPP negotiations will be discussed between Obama and Najib as Malaysia is one of the 12 countries seeking to sign the deal, he said. The last U.S. president to visit Malaysia while in office was Lyndon Johnson in 1966.
Obama will leave Malaysia for the Philippines next Monday and discuss with President Benigno Aquino the bilateral security alliance among other issues.