. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Prime Minister Affirms U.S.-Japan Ties

TOKYO -- Ryutaro Hashimoto, who proved himself a tough negotiator in trade talks with the United States last year, promised to reaffirm U.S.-Japan ties during President Bill Clinton's April visit in his first speech to Parliament as prime minister Monday.

A plan to reduce U.S. military bases on Okinawa will also be worked out, he said, although he did not specify whether other parts of Japan will be asked to take up more of the burden.

Protest has been growing on the southern island, where more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan are stationed, especially after a rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl last September allegedly committed by three U.S. servicemen.

Hashimoto said he will "make every effort ... to find a solution paying maximum consideration to the sorrow and suffering of the people of Okinawa over the years.''

But he said the U.S.-Japan military alliance is "indispensable to the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region" and should be firmly maintained.

Hashimoto also promised to "deal strictly'' with wrongdoers, seeking support from lawmakers for an unpopular bailout plan for housing lenders.

Winning public support for the plan to rescue the housing lenders, called jusen, will be a key test for Hashimoto, the former trade chief who became prime minister Jan. 11.

The squabble over the plan, which calls for using 680 billion yen ($6.5 billion) in taxpayer money, is expected to dominate the parliamentary session that opened Monday.

The government has defended the plan, part of a larger effort to deal with the huge amount of bad debts at banks left over from speculative real estate deals of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The opposition has blasted the jusen bailout and called for immediate elections.

In his speech, Hashimoto reiterated the government explanation that the bailout is needed to keep Japan's economic recovery on track.

Also Monday, Hashimoto's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalitionpartners agreed to push for disclosure of the major borrowers in the bailout, local media reported.

A report from the Finance Ministry Friday on the seven housing lenders' outstanding loans was criticized because it did not disclose the names of the borrowers. Some are suspected to have links with yakuza mobsters.