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Japan PM wins coveted first Obama invitation

world Updated: Feb 22, 2009 08:15 IST

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso wins the honor of becoming the first foreign leader to visit Barack Obama's White House on Tuesday as the new administration moves to ease the key ally's worries.

The leaders of the world's two largest economies are expected to look at ways to fight the worsening global slowdown amid another round of bloodletting on stock markets.

But experts believe Obama's invitation to Aso is largely symbolic designed to relieve concerns in Japan that the United States is overlooking its longtime ally in light of China's rapid growth.

"They heard the alarm bells that had been ringing that Japan needs to be reassured about the strength of the alliance," said Ralph Cossa, head of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Everybody talks about China, but Japan is still the world's second largest economy. Japan is where the money is and if you want to deal with the international financial crisis, you've got to have the US and Japan in synch."

The trip comes as Aso faces dismal poll ratings and speculation mounts that he will soon have to call a high-risk general election. But experts say the invitation is more about US commitment to Japan, not Aso.

Aso visiting Washington a week before close ally Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown will hold talks at the White House hours before Obama gives his first address to a joint session of Congress.