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ABOARD JAPAN GOVERNMENT AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - Japan will stress that U.S. involvement is important to its idea of forming an East Asian Community when it pitches the concept to Asian leaders this weekend, a top government official said on Friday.
The move could be seen as an attempt to ease growing worries about friction over the long-planned reorganisation of the U.S. military presence in Japan, the first big test of ties between Washington and Japan's month-old government.
Washington is also wary about being excluded from the Asian regional grouping as Japan's new government vows to steer a diplomatic course less dependant on its closest security ally, while seeking to deepen ties with Asian neighbours.
"The East Asian Community is a long-term vision and we would like to promote regional integration based on openness and transparency," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yorihisa Matsuno told reporters on a flight to Thailand, where Asian leaders will gather for a series of summits.
"The U.S. involvement will be very important," Matsuno said, referring to what Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama plans to tell his Asian counterparts at the weekend meetings.
Hatoyama has stressed that the U.S.-Japan alliance would remain the foundation of Tokyo's diplomacy, Matsuno noted.
Hatoyama, who took power last month after a landslide election win, is unlikely to touch the sensitive topic of which countries he thinks should be included in his East Asian Community proposal at the weekend meetings, Matsuno added.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has said the United States would not be a member of the East Asia Community idea and he envisaged opening membership to Japan, China, South Korea, ASEAN, Australia, New Zealand and India -- the same as participants in the East Asia Summit, which Hatoyama attends on Sunday.
But Okada has recently toned down his comments, saying there is no immediate need for concrete details.
At the weekend meetings, Hatoyama also plans to tell Asian counterparts that Japan wants to promote regional integration actively in areas such as trade, finance, investment, environment and disaster prevention, Matsuno said.
Another message from him will be the importance of helping ASEAN countries to narrow income gaps among member states and the significance of supporting their economic growth, he added.
Before the East Asia Summit, Hatoyama will meet leaders from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Saturday in the Thai seaside town of Hua Hin, and then join a summit meeting of ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea.
(Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa; editing by David Stamp)

Reuters