TOKYO – Vice President Dick Cheney thanked Japan's prime minister Monday for not giving in to Iraqi insurgents and kidnappers who are demanding withdrawal of Japanese troops in exchange for the release of Japanese hostages.
After Tokyo, Cheney was turning his attention to China, the next stop on a tour of Asia that also will take him to South Korea.
Cheney met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) in an atmosphere of rising international tension over increased violence and the holding of foreign captives in Iraq.
"We have consulted closely with the prime minister and his government to make certain we do everything we can to be of assistance," Cheney told reporters.
Ending a three-day visit to Japan, he paid a call on Emperor Akihito before a speech on U.S.-Japanese relations and a flight to Beijing.
Before leaving for China, Cheney told a symposium that the relationship with Japan was "one of the greatest achievements of modern history."
In prepared remarks, Cheney recalled then-President Reagan's speech to the Japanese Diet 21 years ago in which he cited an "old Chinese proverb: 'A single arrow is easily broken, but not three in a bunch."'
"The unity of America, Japan and like-minded nations saw us through the dark days of the Cold War, and with that same unity we will overcome the trials of today," Cheney said.
Ahead of Cheney's arrival, China urged the United States on Monday to stop adhering to a law that requires Washington to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan.
By remaining committed to the Taiwan Relations Act (search), the United States is sending the "wrong message to Taiwan independence forces," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told the official Xinhua News Agency.
The act has "infringed on China's sovereignty and intervened in China's internal affairs," Kong said.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is pledged to defend the island off southeastern China if it is attacked from the mainland. The U.S. officially agrees that only one China exists but wants the dispute to be resolved peacefully by China and Taiwan.
China's nationalist leaders fled to Taiwan at the end of China's civil war 55 years ago, but the Communist Party-controlled mainland still claims the island as its territory. It has threatened war should the Taiwan government begin formal moves toward independence.
On Iraq, Japan has refused to bow to demands that it withdraw its roughly 530 ground troops performing humanitarian missions, part of an eventual deployment of 1,100 noncombat troops.
Kidnappers holding three hostages have threatened to burn them alive unless the Japanese troops leave, but the deadline has passed with no indication the threat has been carried out.
Japan's post-World War II constitution, drafted by the victorious United States, forbids Japanese governments to send forces abroad. Koizumi had to have a special law enacted to send the noncombat forces, and the law specifies they can be sent only to areas that are deemed safe.
"We wholeheartedly support the position the prime minister has taken with respect to the question of the Japanese hostages," Cheney told reporters.
All three nations Cheney is visiting have seen civilians kidnapped in Iraq. Xinhua, the Chinese agency, reported gunmen had kidnapped seven Chinese in central Iraq. Eight South Korean civilians were kidnapped late last week but were released.
"We especially appreciate Japan's role in helping with the global war on terror and their work with us in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fact that they've taken on significant responsibilities in those endeavors," Cheney said.
A senior administration official, briefing reporters on the Cheney-Koizumi meeting on condition of anonymity, said Cheney and Koizumi had extensively discussed the increased violence in Iraq and the holding of foreign hostages.
Cheney told Koizumi he expected countries that make up the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to come under maximum pressure in the run-up to a planned June 30 turnover of civilian authority to an interim Iraqi government, the official said. The expectation is that anti-U.S. forces would try to torpedo the exchange of power, the official said.
The two leaders also talked about efforts to prod stalled talks to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program, the U.S. official said.
Cheney and Koizumi did not directly take up the question of Japan's 5-month-old ban on U.S. beef imports implemented after mad-cow disease was diagnosed in a Holstein in the Western United States.
Cheney raised the problem later, however, in a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, said Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems.
There were no breakthroughs, but "that conversation continues," Kellems said. Japan is continuing to press for 100 percent inspection of beef carcasses, a requirement the Unites States deems excessive.
Reports of the kidnapped Chinese all but assured that Iraq would also be the top topic of discussion when Cheney meets in Beijing on Tuesday with Chinese leaders.