Q&A: Obama discusses the Pacific 'pivot,' Okinawa presence
The following is the full text of President Barack Obama's written response to The Yomiuri Shimbun's questions.
The Yomiuri Shimbun: Asian allies of the United States very much appreciate the "Asia rebalance strategy" of the Obama administration. Could you please describe the core objectives of the policy in your own words? What do you think China is aiming at when they advocate a "new type of major-power relations?" China claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Would you officially declare that the islands are covered by Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security? What do you expect China and Japan to do to in order to lessen the tensions in the area?
Obama: America is and always will be a Pacific nation, and at my direction the United States is once again playing a leading role in the region, in close partnership with allies like Japan. We seek security, where international law and norms are upheld and disputes are resolved peacefully. We seek prosperity, where trade and investment leads to broad-based economic growth and nations play by the same rules. We seek respect for fundamental freedoms and universal human rights, because we believe in the inherent dignity of every human being.
Our strategy is a long-term commitment to this region and its people, and I'm proud of our progress so far. Our alliances, including with Japan, are stronger than ever and we're modernizing our defense posture across the region. Our trade is growing and we're working to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We're deepening our ties with emerging powers like China, India and Indonesia. We're more closely engaged with regional institutions like ASEAN and the East Asia Summit. We're standing with citizens, including the people of Burma, as they work toward a democratic future.
With regard to China, the new model of relations we seek between our two countries is based on my belief that we can work together on issues of mutual interest, both regionally and globally, and that both our nations have to resist the danger of slipping into conflict, which is not inevitable. For example, both the United States and China have an interest in the global economic recovery, the denuclearization of North Korea and addressing climate change. In other words, we welcome the continuing rise of a China that is stable, prosperous and peaceful and plays a responsible role in global affairs. And our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.
At the same time, the United States is going to deal directly and candidly with China on issues where we have differences, such as human rights. I've also told President Xi that all our nations have an interest in dealing constructively with maritime issues, including in the East China Sea. Disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion. The policy of the United States is clear — 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. And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands.
The U.S. and Japan are in the final phase of negotiations on TPP. Could you please describe how the agreement would contribute to the economic growth of the Asia-Pacific region and to the U.S. economy? What do you expect from Japan in order to finalize a deal? Also, what do you expect most out of Abe's economic policy, "Abenomics"?
The Asia-Pacific is already the fastest-growing region in the global economy, but there are still tariffs, barriers and practices throughout the region that limit trade and investment and which prevent our economies from reaching their full potential. Given the millions of jobs that are sustained by commerce between our nations, even a small increase in trade would yield important gains for our workers and businesses. Japan's entry into the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership gave added hope that TPP can be the driving force for greater economic integration across the region.
I know the Trans-Pacific Partnership has prompted debate in Japan, as it has in the United States, and I've made it clear that any agreement has to include strong protections for labor and the environment. As this debate goes forward, I believe our citizens will recognize the important benefits the TPP can deliver for all our countries, including the United States and Japan. By reducing tariffs and other barriers, it would open more markets to our goods, boost our exports, and help make our businesses more competitive in the global economy. TPP will also help protect our businesses against unfair competition from state-owned enterprises and it will improve the protection of our intellectual property in a digital world. Put simply, TPP will help support jobs and growth in all our countries and give an added boost to America and Japan's economic revitalization.
Of course, in order to realize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all our nations will have to live up to our commitment to reaching a high-standard agreement and make important decisions, some of them difficult. It won't be easy. But I'm absolutely convinced that the benefits to our workers, businesses and our economies as a whole make TPP a clear win for all our countries. In addition, TPP will reinforce the important structural reforms that Prime Minister Abe is pursuing and thereby help unleash greater growth in Japan over the long term. TPP can be a foundation for more jobs and growth in our countries for decades to come.
PROMOTION OF WOMEN
The Abe administration is now trying to promote female participation as an important element of the workforce. What are your expectations for this policy, especially considering that your Ambassador to Japan is Caroline Kennedy? Was it your intention for her to act as a positive role model for women's active involvement and greater participation in Japanese society?
I commend the Government of Japan, and Prime Minister Abe in particular, for their leadership on this issue. Women across Japan have already proven that they have the skills and the talent to excel across all sorts of fields, from government to business. But it's also clear, in all our countries, that our mothers, sisters and daughters aren't always given the same opportunities to advance and succeed. Even when they have the same credentials and experience as their male counterparts, women can still hit glass ceilings when they try to become managers of businesses and leaders of large organizations.
This doesn't only do a disservice to women, it hurts us all. In the United States we've seen that businesses with more women managers often do better and boost profits. Around the world, countries that create more opportunities for women are more successful and more prosperous. It makes sense. A nation cannot truly thrive if it denies itself the extraordinary potential of half our citizens. I often say that when women succeed, America succeeds, and it's true for other countries as well.
That is why I believe in doing everything we can to make it easier, not harder, for women to succeed in the workplace. We'll be hosting a summit on working families at the White House in two months to discuss what more we can do in the United States, and I'm pleased that we'll be joined by several participants from Japan and South Korea. Here in Japan, Caroline Kennedy is a close friend who is doing an outstanding job as our ambassador. I nominated Caroline because I knew she had the leadership strengths and stature to continue deepening the ties between our two peoples. As the first woman to serve as our ambassador to Japan, she's also a role model for women in both our countries and a powerful reminder to us all of the leadership that women can offer.
U.S. FORCES IN OKINAWA
The U.S. and Japanese governments are now trying to move forward with the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) in Okinawa. How important is it to support the U.S. commitment in Asian security?
I know that the people of Okinawa are concerned about the impact of bases, such as the Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma, that are located in heavily populated areas. We take those concerns very seriously. Our goal has always been to have the minimal intrusion on the lives of residents living in these areas, even as we maintain our commitments to the alliance and our treaties. In fact, working closely with the Japanese government and local leaders, we've already taken a number of steps that have reduced the impact of our presence on Okinawa and we'll continue to do so. As part of the realignment of our forces in Japan, we're working to close the Futenma facility and relocate to a new facility, consolidate our presence on Okinawa into fewer locations and move many of our forces to Guam and Hawaii. All of this will reduce the impact of our bases on local communities.
At the same time, it's important to remember that the U.S. Marine Corps presence on Okinawa is absolutely critical to our mutual security. It plays a key role in the defense of Japan. American forces on Okinawa supported relief efforts after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami three years ago as well as the response to last year's typhoon in the Philippines. They stand ready to respond to a wide range of contingencies, including future natural disasters and humanitarian crises. I'm very proud of our men and women in uniform who serve alongside our Japanese allies, and the realignment of our forces — as part of the broader modernization of our defense posture in the region — will ensure that our alliance stays strong and ready for the future.
The Abe administration is attempting to revise its interpretation of the Japanese Constitution to exercise the right to "collective self-defense," which would enable Japan to support U.S. military activities when it comes to Asian security. How would you evaluate the policy change in terms of its contribution to the U.S.-Japan alliance?
Decisions about the Japanese constitution, of course, belong to the people and leaders of Japan. I would simply say that the United States has the greatest respect for the service and professionalism of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. Our militaries train and exercise together and we're both stronger for it. Our forces worked together as part of the humanitarian efforts after the typhoon in the Philippines. Japanese peacekeepers serve with courage in United Nations missions around the world. The world is better off because of Japan's long-standing commitment to international peace and security.
That is why we have enthusiastically welcomed Japan's desire to play a greater role in upholding international security. I commend Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to strengthen Japan's defense forces and to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defense. We believe that it's in the interest of both our countries for Japanese Self Defense Forces to do more within the framework of our alliance. Likewise, U.N. peacekeeping missions would benefit from even greater Japanese participation. We very much appreciate Tokyo's outreach to other nations, including sending officials to foreign capitals to explain Japan's evolving defense policies. In fact, Japan's efforts are a model of the transparency and dialogue with neighbors that we need more of in the region.
NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA
North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile systems. What does the United States expect from Japan and the Republic of Korea in terms of cooperation in the face of their provocative actions?
North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs are a threat to our allies Japan and South Korea, a threat to the region, and increasingly a direct threat to the security of the United States. In the past, the North thought its provocations could drive a wedge between our three countries. Instead, in recent years the United States, Japan and South Korea have stood united, deepened our trilateral cooperation and made it clear to Pyongyang that the days when its threats would elicit concessions are over. Today, North Korea is more isolated than ever.
This was the message of our trilateral summit last month in the Netherlands on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. By meeting together, Prime Minister Abe, President Park and I were able to demonstrate the unity and shared determination of our three nations. And our solidarity is going to continue. Any North Korean provocation — such as its recent missile launches — will be met with a unified response by our three nations. The commitment of the United States to the security of Japan and South Korea will remain unwavering. And we are going to continue to deepen our diplomatic and military cooperation and move ahead with the modernization of our alliances, including joint exercises and missile defense.
Moreover, we're going to stand firm in our insistence that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable. The burden is on Pyongyang to take concrete steps to abide by is commitments and obligations, and the United States, Japan and South Korea are united in our goal — the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. I would add that, even as we face the nuclear threat from North Korea, we remain deeply concerned about the desperate plight of the people of North Korea as well as other humanitarian issues, as Prime Minister Abe mentioned at our trilateral summit. We will never stop working for the day when all the people of the Korean peninsula can live in security, peace and freedom.