Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in the US on Sunday for a weeklong visit to showcase the success of the alliance built from Tokyo's defeat in World War II, while promoting a political agenda based on still stronger military and economic ties.
The visit will take Abe from Boston to the Silicon Valley, with ample time for hobnobbing with high-flying businesspeople like the founders of Facebook and Apple, Japanese scholars and celebrities.
With no major trade or economic deals expected, the aim, officials in Tokyo said, is to confirm an upgrading of joint defense guidelines and to advertise the bright side of Japan and its people, including Americans of Japanese ancestry, and possibly sell some bullet train systems.
Abe is first among several leaders of Asia, including China and South Korea, visiting the US this year, a sign of Washington's growing attention to the region. He arrived in Boston on Sunday night for a stop at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and a dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry.
He can point to his brief summit the week before with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a sign of improving relations despite lingering friction over Japan's wartime history and territorial disputes. Abe still hasn't met bilaterally with South Korea's President Park Geun-hye due to a dispute over his stance on the issue of sex slaves — women forced to work in military brothels during the war.
But he will acknowledge the wartime past with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial National Museum. Abe will also go to Arlington National Cemetery and pay respects to Japanese-American war dead at the "Go for Broke" memorial.
"I plan to deliver a message that Japan and the United States, based on our strong ties, will together build peace and prosperity in the 21st century and open a new era," Abe told reporters Sunday just before his departure.
Abe was to speak at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on Monday. He will travel to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, he will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress, and likely will seek to tilt the balance in favor of Obama's request for "fast-track" rules to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation, a U.S.-led trade initiative. Recent ministerial-level talks between Japan and the United States have made progress, but officials say they don't expect a major breakthrough during Abe's visit.
In his address, Abe is expected to touch on historical issues before highlighting Japan's contributions to relations with the U.S. since its postwar occupation ended in 1952.
Abe said Sunday that he will focus on the future of Japan and the world. "I plan to show my vision about the future of Japan as we work with the United States, and about the world we want to achieve," he said.
The speech "is basically evolving around the Japan-U.S. relationship, how we have come a long way in 70 years," Japan's ambassador to the U.S., Kenichiro Sasae, told a recent seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "What are the challenges we are heading for? What will be the best thing for the leaders to recognize and build together?"
Abe said he is somewhat nervous about making a speech in English, and is hoping the lawmakers will be kinder than their peers back home.
"In Japan, I have to deal with hecklers," he said.
For Abe, who is pushing to expand Japan's defense capabilities, a top priority during talks with Obama is endorsing revised Japan-U.S. defense guidelines, to be finalized a day earlier between the two countries' foreign and defense ministers.
The revision, the first in 18 years, would boost Japan's role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, as the two militaries work together in a region amid China's growing assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing. The new arrangement would also allow Japan to dispatch its armed forces beyond the region for logistical backup of U.S. military's global operations, in distant areas including the Middle East.
Japan's military role is currently limited to its own self-defense, and the country's war-renouncing constitution still prohibits pre-emptive strikes, leaving any offensive action to the US.