U.S. President Barack Obama started off his four-nation, eight-day Asia-Pacific trip in Tokyo on April 23, 2014, as Japan’s state guest. It was the first time since 1996 that an American President visited Japan as a formal state guest. President Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held bilateral talks on April 24th, after which a joint statement was released.
The talks covered a wide range of topics including security, economy, and global challenges. Women’s empowerment, humanitarian assistance, climate change and disaster relief were also on the agenda, indicating that the bilateral relationship is focused on sustaining peace and prosperity in the region, as well as in the world.
The two leaders confirmed that they will work on these issues together, sharing a common vision for a rule-based world order, reaffirming democratic values. For example, the two leaders underscored their opposition to any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims with intimidation, coercion or force. On economic policy, they emphasized the importance of a free, open, and transparent economic system, committing further steps toward the agreement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
In addition, President Obama and Prime Minister Abe agreed to increase people-to-people ties between the two countries. They announced their goal to double student exchanges by the year of 2020, in agreement with a target already set by the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON). This goal was set amidst concern about the declining trajectory of the number of Japanese students enrolled at American colleges and universities. Exchange programs for youth and young leaders between the U.S. and Japan were also highlighted in the statement, such as the TOMODACHI initiative, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, and the KAKEHASHI Project, on which the East-West Center is one of the collaborators.
Though the focus is often on the security alliance or economic ties, Obama and Abe made sure to emphasize that “people-to-people exchange is an irreplaceable investment in the future of the alliance.”