Obama says sorry to Abe after WikiLeaks claims of US spying

Mr Shinzo Abe, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Barack Obama, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari attend the second working session of the G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Kruen, Germany on June 8, 2015.
Mr Shinzo Abe, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Barack Obama, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari attend the second working session of the G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Kruen, Germany on June 8, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • United States President Barack Obama apologised yesterday to Tokyo after WikiLeaks claimed Washington had spied on Japanese politicians, a government spokesman said.

Mr Obama held a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday morning, spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, adding that the pair agreed to work together on global economic issues in the wake of a stock market meltdown sparked by fears over China.

"President Obama said he was very sorry... as the case caused a big debate in Japan," Mr Suga told a regular news conference, without confirming the spying claims. He added that Mr Abe reiterated his "serious concern" over the case.

"Prime Minister Abe told (Obama) that if the Japanese people concerned were subject to these activities, it would risk jeopardising trusting relations between allies," Mr Suga said.

In an earlier conversation with US Vice-President Joe Biden, Mr Abe voiced similar concerns if the spying claims were confirmed.

Last month, WikiLeaks said it had intercepts revealing years- long espionage by the US National Security Agency (NSA) on Japanese officials and major companies.

Tokyo's response has been widely seen as muted compared to the anger expressed in France and Germany following similar NSA spying allegations.

Japan is one of Washington's key allies in the Asia-Pacific region and they regularly consult on defence, economic and trade issues.

Unlike German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, Mr Abe did not appear to be a direct target of wiretapping - but other senior politicians were, according to WikiLeaks, including Trade Minister Yoichi Miyazawa.

Mr Obama and Mr Abe also discussed market turmoil that has seen a massive global equities sell-off after China cut the value of its yuan currency in an apparent bid to boost exports, sparking fears of an economic slowdown and the subsequent impact on global growth.

"(Abe and Obama) will firmly work together on the economy issue," Mr Suga said.

He added that Mr Obama repeated Washington's support for Mr Abe's speech earlier this month on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in which he expressed regret but also said future generations need not apologise for Japan's war record.

"The President said he welcomed (Abe's remarks) as a whole," said Mr Suga.

Allies, including the US and Britain, supported Mr Abe's statement, but China and South Korea said that he had failed to properly apologise for Tokyo's war-time aggression.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Obama says sorry to Abe after WikiLeaks claims of US spying'. Print Edition | Subscribe