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US replaces senior diplomat after his comments irk Japan

[ 2011-03-11 15:33]     字号 [] [] []  
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The United States replaced a senior diplomat handling policy toward Japan on Thursday and apologized after his reported comments threatened to strain ties between the allies at a time of political deadlock in Tokyo.

A senior US official who is visiting Tokyo acknowledged the reported remarks had done some harm to ties between the world's No 1 and No 3 economies, but said the two countries would press ahead with efforts to strengthen and broaden their alliance.

Kevin Maher, director of the office of Japan affairs at the State Department, was quoted by media as telling US students that residents of Japan's southern Okinawa island - host to about half of the US military in Japan - were masters of "manipulation" and "extortion".

It was an apparent reference to criticism that residents of Okinawa, one of Japan's poorest regions, want economic aid in return for accepting US bases on the southern island.

The issue of US military bases in Okinawa has long been a thorn in relations between the two allies, with many residents of the island resentful of bearing what they see as an unfair share of the burden for the US-Japan security alliance, the core of Japan's diplomacy for more than half a century.

The furor emerged as Prime Minister Naoto Kan scrambled to replace Seiji Maehara, who abruptly quit as foreign minister on Sunday after admitting he had accepted, albeit unknowingly, about $3,000 in donations from a South Korean national living in Japan.

Kan promoted junior minister Takeaki Matsumoto to the post on Wednesday. US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, in Tokyo for security talks, spent most of his time apologizing and said US Ambassador John Roos was flying to Okinawa to do the same.

But while admitting "some harm" had been done, Campbell said the allies would continue work to define new strategic objectives and bolster defense cooperation at "two plus two" talks between foreign and defense ministers, likely in the spring.

"We are moving toward what we believe will be a major statement on the way forward giving the pressing developments in the Asian-Pacific region," he told reporters. "The alliance managers are going to be making their best efforts to ensure that the 'two plus two' is historic in nature."

Maehara's resignation was doubtless a disappointment to Washington given his strong pro-US views and expertise in security matters. Ties with Washington have been frayed since the Democratic Party of Japan took power for the first time in 2009, and then-premier Yukio Hatoyama tried to keep a campaign pledge to move the US Marines' Futenma air base off Okinawa.


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

US replaces senior diplomat after his comments irk Japan

About the broadcaster:

US replaces senior diplomat after his comments irk Japan

Lee Hannon is Chief Editor at China Daily with 15-years experience in print and broadcast journalism. Born in England, Lee has traveled extensively around the world as a journalist including four years as a senior editor in Los Angeles. He now lives in Beijing and is happy to move to China and join the China Daily team.