Obama tries to allay Japanese concerns over spying

US President Barack Obama (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, pictured on April 28, 2015, held a conversation as Obama tried to allay concerns that Washington spied on Japanese politicians (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb) (AFP/File)

Tokyo (AFP) - President Barack Obama has tried to allay concerns that the United States spied on Japanese politicians, calling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a conversation that also touched on tumult in the global stock market.

Aides said Obama and Abe spoke Tuesday, but offered differing and limited accounts of what took place in the call.

Abe spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that "President Obama said he was very sorry... as the (spying) case caused a big debate in Japan."

He added that Abe reiterated his "serious concern" over the case.

"Prime Minister Abe told (Obama) that, if the Japanese people concerned were subject to these activities, it would risk jeopardizing trusting relations between allies," Suga said.

The White House issued a more circumspect statement saying that Obama had "reassured" his Japanese counterpart that "intelligence collection is focused on national security interests and is as narrowly tailored as possible."

Last month, WikiLeaks said it had intercepts revealing years-long espionage by the US National Security Agency (NSA) on Japanese officials and major companies.

Tokyo's response has been widely seen as muted compared to the anger expressed in France and Germany following similar NSA spying allegations.

Japan is one of Washington's key allies in the Asia-Pacific region and they regularly consult on defense, economic and trade issues.

Unlike German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande, Abe did not appear to be a direct target of wiretapping -- but other senior politicians were, according to WikiLeaks, including Trade Minister Yoichi Miyazawa.

In an earlier conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden, Abe voiced similar concerns about the unconfirmed spying claims.

Suga also said that Abe and Obama agreed to work together on global economic issues in the wake of a stock market meltdown sparked by fears over China.

This week is a massive global equities sell-off after China cut the value of its yuan currency in an apparent bid to boost exports, sparking fears of an economic slowdown and the subsequent impact on global growth.

"(Abe and Obama) will firmly work together on the economy issue," Suga said, without elaborating.

Obama also "commended" Abe for a speech on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, in which he expressed regret, but also said future generations need not apologize for Japan's war record.

Allies including the United States and Britain supported Abe's statement, but China and South Korea said he failed to properly apologize for Tokyo's war time aggression.

Japan's neighbors suffered badly from its imperial march across Asia in the first part of the 20th century.