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Obama arrives in Japan at start of Asia trip

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Obama arrives in Japan
  • Discussions in Japan expected to include status of U.S. base in Okinawa
  • Obama will also visit Singapore, China and South Korea
  • Trip will mark first participation by a U.S. president in a summit of the ASEAN economic alliance
  • Obama will hold a bilateral meeting with Russian and Indonesian presidents

(CNN) -- U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on Friday at the start of a four-nation trip to Asia that will emphasize economic growth, nuclear non-proliferation, the war in Afghanistan and climate change.

On a schedule that will see Obama meet with a myriad of world leaders, he will start with new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Hatoyama and Obama have said they will affirm a strengthening of the bilateral alliance. But the U.S. president will be greeted by a Japanese leadership that's pledged more independence from the United States and has said it is reviewing a bilateral deal to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps base on Okinawa. The agreement was met with fierce local opposition, including massive protests on the island and in Tokyo.

The two leaders are scheduled to hold an 8:20 p.m. (6:20 a.m. ET) news conference.

Video: Issues for Obama on Japan visit

On the itinerary that also includes Singapore, China and South Korea, Obama will hold formal talks with Asian leaders as a group and individually.

The president plans to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Russia President Dmitry Medvedev and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and will take part in an APEC summit.

APEC, or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, is a collection of 21 nations which produce more than 50 percent of the world's economic output. The forum sees its goal as "facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region."

Fact Box

*Meeting Japan's new government, which pledged more independence from Washington

*Tokyo is reviewing moving a U.S. Marine Corps base, ruffling feathers in Washington.

*Aid to Afghanistan: Japan's government is extending US$5 billion in aid.

*Economic recovery: The world's second largest economy has major companies like Toyota operating in the U.S.

*Rising China: Japan is strengthening ties with this emerging economic superpower.

*North Korea: Resuming six-party talks.

During a busy day in Singapore, Obama will also become the first U.S. president to take part in a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic alliance.

U.S. officials were careful to avoid any perception that Obama's presence at the ASEAN meeting would amount to a bilateral discussion with the prime minister of Myanmar, who also will attend.

After years of refusing direct talks with Myanmar, also known as Burma, the United States has indicated a possible re-engagement with the military regime it considers repressive for cracking down on political opposition, including the National League for Democracy. The league is led by detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The statement we're trying to make here is that we're not going to let the Burmese tail wag the ASEAN dog," said Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council's senior director for East Asian affairs. "We're going to meet with all 10, and we're not going to punish the other nine simply because Burma is in the room, but this is not a bilateral."

As the first U.S. president with "an Asia-Pacific orientation," Obama "understands that the future of our prosperity and our security is very much tied to this part of the world," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Obama spent part of his childhood in Asia, living in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971.

In China, Obama will continue efforts to define and strengthen the relationship with the world's largest emerging economy, which has a growing influence in Asia, Bader said.

"We see it as a relationship where we're obviously going to have differences, where we are going to be competitors in certain respects," he said. "But we want to maximize areas where we can work together, because the global challenges will simply not be met if we don't."

Bader cited North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the economy, climate change, human rights and Afghanistan as among the top issues for the China swing. On human rights, Bader said Obama is likely to address "freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of religion, rule of law and, certainly, Tibet."

Obama will make clear to Hu that he intends to meet in the future with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Bader said. China, which rejects Tibetan aspirations for autonomy, opposes such high-level contacts with the Dalai Lama.

On North Korea, the State Department announced Tuesday that U.S. officials will travel to the country by year's end to seek a resumption of broader talks on ending the Pyongyang government's nuclear program.

The Obama administration has claimed initial progress in its strategy of forging an international effort, including China and South Korea, to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Japan has been asking for a comprehensive solution to North Korea's missile tests and the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s.

It won't be all diplomatic meetings, though. Obama's first trip to China will include a town hall-style meeting in Shanghai and sightseeing in Beijing, including a stop at the Great Wall. While in Japan, he'll meet the emperor and empress, according to Rhodes.