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Japan's new government seeks to reassure US

JAPAN'S new government sought to reassure security ally Washington on today that no upheaval is in store for US-Japan relations, as the country gropes toward a rare handover of power.

The Democratic Party of Japan has begun a transition to power after trouncing the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in an election on Sunday, with parliament due to appoint Democrats' leader Yukio Hatoyama prime minister in two weeks.

Managing relations with the United States, Tokyo's closest security ally, is high on the agenda as a new American ambassador ruled out any changes to controversial plans to relocate some US bases in Japan.

Hatoyama wants to chart a new course more independent of Washington without damaging an alliance long at the core of Japan's diplomacy and a senior Democratic Party lawmaker sought on today to allay simmering concerns, including among investors, over the relationship.

"We have repeatedly said Japan-US relations are most important as a basic principle in diplomacy and stressed the importance of continuity in diplomacy," Kohei Otsuka said in an interview with Reuters.

The Democrats have said they want to reexamine an agreement governing US military forces in Japan and a deal under which about 8,000 Marines will leave for the US territory of Guam and a Marine Corps air base would be shifted to a less populated part of the southern island of Okinawa.

New US ambassador to Japan John Roos said in an interview with US National Public Radio the deals were not negotiable.

"Just to make it abundantly clear, both the United States and Japan, at the government-to-government level, have made it absolutely clear that these agreements have been signed, agreed to, and are going forward," Roos said.

The Democrats have said they want the air base moved off Okinawa, where many residents feel they shoulder an unfair share of the burden of the US-Japan security alliance.

Hatoyama will head to the United States soon after forming his cabinet to make his diplomatic debut at a UN General Assembly meeting and a G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Japanese media said he would also hold talks with US President Barack Obama.

The US-educated Hatoyama raised eyebrows in Washington with a recent essay in which he attacked the "unrestrained market fundamentalism" of US-led globalisation. He sought to play down those comments on Monday, saying he was not anti-American.


Other party executives sought to push ahead with an almost unheard-of handover of power in Japan.

Democrat Secretary-General Katsuya Okada met the top aide to outgoing Prime Minister Taro Aso and requested that government ministries help ensure a smooth transition. It is only the second time the LDP has lost power since its founding in 1955.

Aso instructed the aide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, to cooperate in the handover, Kyodo news agency said.

"Unlike the United States and United Kingdom, we do not have any rules for a handover, so this is the first step," Kawamura told reporters before the meeting with Okada.

"For the sake of the country, I think we should cooperate fully with the new administration."

The Democrats made curbing the clout of bureaucrats who have long controlled policy-making a key election promise, but also needs their cooperation to implement programmes such as putting more money in the hands of households.

Hatoyama, the wealthy grandson of a former premier, has a lot on his plate as he prepares to form the first non-LDP government since 1993, when ruling party rebels bolted and triggered a chain reaction that replaced the LDP for a mere 10 months.

Reviving the economy is one key challenge, with unemployment at a record high and investors worried about deflation and whether the new government will raise spending and further increase Japan's soaring public debt.

The Democrats also need to firm up a proposed coalition with two tiny partners on the left and the right, whose cooperation is needed to keep control of parliament's less powerful upper house, which can delay legislation and stymie policy.

Social Democratic Party representatives met on today to discuss their stance on the expected coalition. The three parties agreed some policies ahead of the election, but have shied away from discussions of security matters, where large gaps loom.


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