Obama's Meeting With New Japanese Leader Focuses On China

President Obama met with the new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzu Abe at the White House on Friday. The two nations have common concerns about what they regard as provocations by North Korea and China.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The Japanese flag flew over Blair House in Washington today. That's where foreign leaders stay when they visit the White House. Japan's new prime minister is here for his first meeting with President Obama, and they've been discussing economic and security issues as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Shinzo Abe is new to his job and also familiar with it. He took office in December at a time of political turmoil in Japan - the country's seventh prime minister in just six years. But he's also held the job once before for a year in 2007.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, welcome and please extend our warmest greetings to the people of Japan and...

SHAPIRO: In the Oval Office, President Obama and Prime Minister Abe spoke to reporters for a few minutes this afternoon.

OBAMA: I know that Prime Minister Abe and I both agree that our number one priority has to be making sure that we are increasing growth and making sure that people have the opportunity to prosper if they're willing to work hard in both our countries.

SHAPIRO: The U.S. and Japan are the world's first and third largest economies. Much of their focus today was on the world's second largest economy: China. Tensions are growing in the East China Sea. Abe said the security situation is becoming more difficult. Danny Russel at the White House's National Security Council says the president wants everyone to take a deep breath.

DANNY RUSSEL: The president's focus, as you can imagine, is on the importance of managing these issues in a diplomatic way that lowers the tensions. This is a region that is so important to the international economy. No one wants to allow tensions to fester.

SHAPIRO: President Obama sees a growing market for American goods in Asia. So the two leaders also discussed a trade alliance called the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. The U.S. hopes it can increase American exports and also provide a counterbalance to China's manufacturing power. On the security front, the two men also talked about North Korea. That country's recent nuclear test was like a siren, says Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

BEN RHODES: We will continue in the future to have very strong defense relationships with Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region. And the North Korean provocation only highlights the importance of having a strong U.S. presence in northeast Asia and in the region more broadly.

SHAPIRO: Asia has been a major focus of President Obama's foreign policy. Four years ago, Japan's then-prime minister was the first foreign leader Obama hosted at the White House. Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says to get this region right, you have to get the Japanese alliance right.

MICHAEL GREEN: It's our most powerful ally in the region, hosts more of our forces than anywhere else in the region, contributes in major ways to international institutions. So to get Asia right and to manage the challenges and opportunities with China, you've got to have a solid U.S.-Japan alliance.

SHAPIRO: At the meeting today, President Obama also warned about the mandatory spending cuts that are a week away. He said the cuts, known as a sequester, may slow economic growth in the U.S. and eventually around the world. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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