President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda shake hands during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House [Image Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

US, Japan Leaders Meet on 60th Anniversary of Alliance to Talk Security, Exchanges, and Blossoms


Saturday, April 28, marked a milestone in US-Japan relations: the 60th anniversary of the effective date of both the “Treaty of Peace with Japan” (commonly known as the Treaty of San Francisco) and the “Security Treaty between the United States and Japan.” The agreements marked the official end of the Pacific War and the American occupation of Japan and ushered in the military alliance between the two nations that continues to form the cornerstone of America’s strategic engagement with the Asia Pacific region.

This anniversary was bookended by a flurry of bilateral activity in Washington, D.C., at the highest levels including a meeting of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee or “2+2”. Most important was the summit meeting of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda and US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, April 30. The leaders released the first US-Japan joint statement since 2006 and the two governments announced a suite of cooperative initiatives on a variety of topics. The week of engagement was capped by the US announcement of a reciprocal gift of dogwood trees for the 3,000 cherry blossom trees that Japan sent to Washington, D.C., 100 years ago.

Map of Potential Bases on Okinawa

US-Japan Security Consultative Committee

Building on the common strategic objectives established in last year’s “2+2” talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka, announced on April 26 changes to the 2006 Base Realignment Roadmap. The governments of the US and Japan agreed to formally delink the controversial relocation of Marine Corp Air Station Futenma from other elements of the plan, with some notable revisions.

The plan calls for 9,000 US Marines and their dependants in Okinawa, nearly half of the total number of Marines currently stationed on the island, to be redeployed as self-contained taskforces throughout the Asia Pacific region, including Guam, Hawaii and Australia. With an eye toward turning Guam into a joint-strategic hub, the US and Japan are exploring options for developing shared-use facilities and training areas for the US military and Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) on the island.

The US will return land and facilities from six sites throughout Okinawa, with a number of areas ready for immediate return. Questions remain in Okinawa and among US Congressional leadership over the future of plans for the relocation of Futenma, but a senior State Department official called the agreement “a resounding victory of the alliance,” and a “key component of our strategic rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific region,” representing a more geographically distributed Marine Corps. “If executed, wrote military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, “the redeployment would be the most significant shift in U.S. forces here since World War II.”

Obama-Noda Summit: “A Shared Vision for the Future”

Prime Minister Noda’s long-awaited visit to the White House was President Obama’s first formal meeting with Japan’s top leader since the Democratic Party of Japan came into power in 2009. Shortly after arriving in Washington, DC, Noda met with members of the Fairfax County Search and Rescue Team that assisted with the response to the March 11, 2011, disasters in Tohoku, as well as the family of JET program English teacher, Taylor Anderson, who died after getting her students to safety. Noda later remarked that while he had “always held the conviction that our bilateral alliance is the lynchpin of Japan’s diplomacy,” after that visit he “felt anew that the U.S.-Japan alliance…is unshakeable.”

At a press conference following their summit meeting on Monday, April 30, Obama saluted the Prime Minister’s efforts to revitalize the US-Japan alliance and the strength and resiliency of Japan in the wake of last year’s disaster, saying to the Japanese people: “More than ever, the American people are proud to call you a friend and honored to call you an ally.” There, he and Noda announced what was referred to as “a joint vision to guide our alliance and help shape the Asia Pacific for decades to come.”

This US-Japan Joint Statement, the first issued since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with President George W. Bush in 2006, described five main areas of this shared vision: that the US-Japan alliance will remain the foundation for peace and prosperity between the two nations and within the broader Asia Pacific region; that increased bilateral trade and investment will support jobs and economic growth; that America and Japan seek an Asia Pacific region built on international norms, freedom of commerce and navigation, and peaceful resolution of conflicts, and as such are partners in addressing the provocations of North Korea and the democratic transition of Burma; that the US and Japan continue to act as global partners through shared values and commitment to international peace and human rights; and to deepen the ties between the people of the US and Japan.

Exchanges and Blossoms

A suite of US-Japan cooperative initiatives were announced to undergird the leaders’ commitment to expanding America-Japan ties. These include the establishment of a Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation to continue the close US-Japan efforts in this area following the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, and new joint research and development initiatives under the US-Japan Clean Energy Policy Dialogue in areas such as green communities in Tohoku, innovation in clean energy, and the use, production, and recycling of critical materials such as rare earth elements. Other programs and initiatives were announced on cooperation in travel facilitation, cyber and space collaboration, and supply chain security.

At a dinner hosted in honor of the Prime Minister, Secretary Clinton also announced that 3,000 flowering dogwood trees, native to America, will be given to Japan as a gift from the people of the United States. The donation celebrates the centennial anniversary of Japan’s gift of the sakura cherry blossom trees to the city of Washington, DC. Toasting Noda, who had appropriately promised the day before to make Japan-US relations “bloom,” Clinton remarked: “We hope that these dogwood trees in Japan will, like the cherry trees here, serve as a symbol of the strong relationship and friendship between our countries.”