President Barack Obama welcomes Japan’s new prime minister to the White House on Friday to reinforce a core U.S. alliance at a time of high tension stoked by a Japan-China territorial dispute and a North Korean nuclear test.

Shinzo Abe is a nationalist and a keen advocate of stronger relations with Washington that have assumed more importance for Tokyo as it has locked horns in recent months with emerging power China over the control of unoccupied islands in the resource-rich seas between them.

Mr. Abe, who arrived Thursday afternoon and will leave early Saturday, has been anxious for the Oval Office meeting since he returned to power after a convincing election victory in December for his second stint as prime minister since he resigned for health reasons in 2007 after serving for one year.

The U.S. partnership with Japan, which hosts about 50,000 American forces, is an enduring one and a cornerstone of Washington’s Asia policy, but establishing a personal rapport between leaders has been difficult. As Japan has struggled with its prolonged economic malaise, there’s been a rotating door of prime ministers. Mr Abe is the fifth since Mr. Obama took office.

Mr. Abe’s market-pleasing moves to stimulate Japan’s economy dubbed ‘Abenomics’ have fuelled hope of a recovery and are expected to feature in a policy speech he will deliver at a Washington think tank after the meeting and working lunch with Mr. Obama at the White House.

The U.S. will be gauging Tokyo intent to join negotiations on the Trans- Pacific Partnership, a region-wide free trade pact being pushed by Washington. Mr. Abe may give pointers, but is widely expected to hold back from such a commitment that is opposed by most of his party and Japan’s small but politically powerful farming lobby, at least until after key elections in July for the upper house.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford Motor Co.’s president of the Americas, said that Mr. Abe should be told to open Japan’s automobile markets, as only about 4 per cent of cars sold there are made by foreign auto companies.

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