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President Bush Meets with Japanese Prime Minster Koizumi

February 18, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPENCER MICHELS: President Bush began his three-nation Asian tour Sunday with a stop in Tokyo, where he expressed support for Japan’s attempt to reform its ailing economy.

The President’s itinerary included this demonstration of sixth-century horseback archery. Mr. Bush used his visit to thank Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for the support Japan has offered in the U.S.-Led war on terrorism. Japan has committed a third of its military’s transport planes and some refueling stations to the campaign. But the economy was the main focus.

Japan has been mired in an 11-year recession after an economic boom in the 1980s. But by the early 1990s, the expansion nearly stopped. Japan’s economy grew less than 1% over the last decade. Unemployment remains high. The financial system is riddled with bad debt, and a hoped-for recovery has fizzled– that, despite hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending resulting in the largest public debt in the industrialized world. Since Koizumi was elected last year on promises of economic reform, he has struggled with a reluctant parliament to make significant progress.

Last month he fired his popular foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, because of her fights with the bureaucracy. The economy and the firing have caused Koizumi’s approval ratings to plunge from above 70% to about 50% today. After three hours of private talks Monday, both President Bush and the prime minister spoke optimistically about getting Japan’s economy back on track.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’m confident in this man’s leadership ability. I’m confident in his strategy. And I am confident in his desire to implement that strategy. And when he implements that strategy, it will help Japan’s economy a lot. I’m not here to give advice; I’m here to lend support. And when he looked me in the eye and told me that he is going to take measures necessary to improve in all three regions, I believe him. I believe that’s his intent, and that is good news because it’s going to require a strong leader to deal with the difficult problems facing the Japanese economy.

SPENCER MICHELS: Koizumi vowed to push forward in his economic reform efforts.

JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, Prime Minister, Japan (Translated): Of course there are many activities that are going on where the government is not involved, and we can invite the private sector to come into areas that are covered by the government, and we should carry forward regulatory reform as well. There will be, of course, confrontation with vested interests, whatever measures we may take — financial measures, deflationary measures, or fiscal policy measures — so it’s not really a question of which should be given priority, structural reform or deflationary measures. Whatever the situation may be, we have to implement structural reform.

SPENCER MICHELS: The President and prime minister wrapped up the day with a casual dinner at a Tokyo restaurant with their wives. President Bush is scheduled to address the Japanese parliament, the Diet, before continuing on to Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday.