Hillary vows support for quake-hit Japan

The US-Japan ties have been strained by a lingering military base dispute.

Last Updated: Apr 17, 2011, 14:23 PM IST

Tokyo: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed full support for earthquake-hit Japan on a solidarity visit on Sunday, hoping that gratitude for disaster relief would revitalise a sometimes uneasy alliance.

On a brief, largely symbolic stop in Tokyo, Hillary highlighted the support of American business leaders and had tea with Emperor Akihito at the Imperial palace -- an unusual invitation to a non-head of state on a Sunday.

"I`m so, so sorry for everything your country is going through," said Hillary, who shook hands with Akihito and kissed Empress Michiko on the cheek.

Speaking earlier to reporters, Hillary said she believed that Japan would emerge stronger from its worst crisis since World War II.

"We are very confident that Japan will demonstrate the resilience that we have seen during the crisis in the months ahead as you resume the very strong position that you hold in the world today," Hillary said.

"We will do everything we can to support you as you come through this time of trial. And we know you will emerge even stronger than before."

Hillary later met with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who said he wanted to voice gratitude for US disaster assistance "on behalf of all the Japanese people”.

"We will never forget and we will keep an enduring memory of the very robust support the United States has provided," Kan told her.

After the March 11 disaster, US forces launched a round-the-clock relief effort bringing supplies to the battered coast -- dubbed Operation Tomodachi, which means "friend" in Japanese.

US helicopters have flown aid missions from an aircraft carrier, marines helped clear the tsunami-ravaged Sendai airport which reopened last week, and thousands joined a search of the coastline for bodies.

The United States stations around 47,000 troops in Japan under a post-World War II security treaty, often leading to friction with host communities for the military bases.

US officials hope the response to the crisis can help reshape attitudes in Japan, a staunch ally for decades.

Speaking after talks with Hillary, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said America`s help in the aftermath of the disaster had enabled Japanese people to "feel secure with the Japan-US alliance, including the US military in Japan”.

Hillary and Matsumoto also said they were launching a business partnership to support Japan`s reconstruction on its northeastern coast, where 13,705 people have been confirmed dead and more than 14,000 are still missing.

While details were vague, the heads of the countries` main business federations -- the US Chamber of Commerce and Nippon Keidanren -- said they would meet on ways that foreign companies can take part in the massive rebuilding.

Tom Donohue, the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said he would tell US businesses that Japan was en route to recovery and encourage them to stay active in the world`s second largest developed economy.

US nuclear experts have already helped with advice on stabilising the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant, where the US military has flown in coolants and deployed freshwater barges and fire engines to help douse hot reactors.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan`s best-selling newspaper, in an editorial last week reflected a view voiced by many survivors of the tsunami disaster.

"We have nothing but the highest praise for the assistance provided by US personnel, which also will be an important contribution toward strengthening the bilateral alliance," it said.

A senior US official travelling with Hillary said many Japanese had in the past considered America`s presence to be "a burden that they had to accept”, but that the response to the disaster showed "that we are there for them in their time of need”.

But points of disputes remain -- including over the location of the Futenma air base, which is opposed by many residents on the southern island of Okinawa due to its proximity to a crowded urban area.

"This may improve the Japanese people`s image of the US military," said politics professor Koji Nakakita of Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

"It does not resolve their pending issues, notably Okinawa, but it will have a positive impact on once-soured relations between the two countries," he said.

Bureau Report