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Japanese Prime Minister Begins US Visit

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center right, and his wife Akie, second from right, join aides in placing a wreath at the site of one of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings Monday, April 27, 2015, in Boston. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center right, and his wife Akie, second from right, join aides in placing a wreath at the site of one of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings Monday, April 27, 2015, in Boston. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in the United States. He plans to visit four U.S. cities and meet with President Barack Obama at the White House. On Wednesday, he will speak to a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Mr. Abe's visit comes as the security and economic relationship between the two countries is changing. U.S. and Japanese officials recently amended defense guidelines to give Japan more responsibility for its own defense. This is the first time those rules have been changed since 1997.

Evan Madeiros is Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council. He says the new defense guidelines will expand Japan's position in the alliance. He says they also will create a way for Japan to provide additional support to the U.S. armed forces.

Kenichiro Sasae is the Japanese ambassador to the United States. He spoke recently at the Centers for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He said the new guidelines will be followed by security legislation. Last year, Mr. Abe and his cabinet changed the official interpretation, or understanding, of Japan's constitution. The Cabinet agreed that Japan can defend itself militarily.

"For Japan, this change in our thinking on collective defense is a sea-change. It is coming after 70 years of trust, and the legislation will establish a framework for Japan to further collaborate with the United States."

Jeffrey Kingston is a professor of Asian studies at Temple University. He works at the university's campus in Tokyo. He says the changes in Japan's security policy are a result of China's growing military strength.

"Back in 1997, China's defense budget was $10 billion. Last year, it was $144 billion and there's been a lot of saber-rattling over disputed territories between the two countries. So, the rising China narrative and concerns about its hegemonic ambitions in Asia are pushing the United States and Japan closer. And Abe is keen to secure a U.S. commitment to back it in the event of some contingency over the disputed islands in the East China Sea."

Yong Soo Lee, lower left, of South Korea, protests outside the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., where Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke, Monday, April 27, 2015
Yong Soo Lee, lower left, of South Korea, protests outside the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., where Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke, Monday, April 27, 2015

Professor Kingston says few Japanese agree with the decision to change Japan's security policy. He says only 23 percent of the public supports a change, while 68 percent oppose it.

Protests by Korean-Americans are expected during Mr. Abe's visit to the United States. They are angry that Japanese troops forced Korean women to become sexual slaves during World War II.

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Victor Beattie reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sea change – n. a big and sudden change

framework – n. the basic structure of something

collaborate – v. to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

saber-rattling – n. actions and statements that are meant to frighten or threaten an enemy by suggesting the possible use of force

hegemonic – adj. ruling or dominant in a political or social context

keen – adj. feeling a strong and impatient desire to do something

Do you believe Japan should take a greater role in its own defense? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

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