TOKYO, March 19 -- Condoleezza Rice, on her first foray into Asia as secretary of state, outlined on Saturday a new U.S. vision of Japan's increasing importance as a global power and challenged China to open its political system and work harder to "embrace some form of genuinely representative government."
In a speech to about 500 professors and students at Sophia University here, Rice offered an expansive view of Japan's role in the world -- including unambiguous support for its campaign to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council -- that suggested the administration viewed the longtime U.S. ally as a counterbalance to the rising regional influence of China.
Rice said the United States welcomed "the rise of a confident, peaceful and prosperous China," but she warned that China must be "willing to match its growing capabilities to its international responsibilities," referencing in particular its economic dealings with Sudan and Burma, both repressive regimes.
Administration officials have privately -- and occasionally publicly -- challenged the Chinese to reform their political system. But Rice's address was an effort to place a warning that China's leaders should adapt their society and political system within the broader strategic framework of U.S. economic, political and security policy in Asia. Rice, who was to travel to Seoul later Saturday and then to Beijing on Sunday, repeatedly recalled President Bush's campaign for worldwide democracy, saying that "instead of closed societies or economies, instead of spheres of influence, we stand for an open world."
Rice, who flew here Friday from Pakistan as part of week-long tour of Asia, offered noticeably softer language on North Korea, which has refused to return to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear programs because of what it calls the administration's "hostile policy."
Rice said the United States would not "be silent about the plight of the North Korean people, about the nature of the North Korean regime." But she said that a U.S. offer to settle the nuclear dispute was open to negotiation -- and that North Korea should grab the opportunity now.
At the six-party talks, "the North Korean government can find the respect it desires and acquire the assistance it needs, if it is willing to make a strategic choice for peace," Rice said. But she said North Korea must return to the talks immediately, suggesting that administration patience with North Korea was running out.
Rice challenged China to put more leverage on its neighbor. "China has a particularly important opportunity and responsibility here," she said, adding that she would address the North Korean issue when she traveled to Beijing.
"Ultimately, a society's material well-being cannot be separated from its political virtue," Rice said, noting that democracy has emerged in Buddhist Thailand, Muslim Indonesia and the Catholic Philippines. "China must eventually embrace some form of genuinely representative government if it is to reap the benefits and meet the challenges of a globalizing world," she said. China's leaders need to "look around them in Asia and see that freedom works. They will see that democracy works."
Answering questions from the audience, Rice said that the U.S. alliance with Japan -- as well as with South Korea and India -- was "not against China" but was designed to influence Chinese behavior. "Knowing that China has the potential for good or bad . . . it is our responsibility to try and push and prod and persuade China to a more positive course," she said.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is one of President Bush's closest allies, and Rice's speech comes as Japan has claimed an increasingly assertive role on the world stage. Recently, the United States and Japan joined in a statement characterizing Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, as among its security concerns. Japan and South Korea are also involved in a bitter dispute over a cluster of uninhabited islands in a rich fishing area.
Rice cited Japan as a model for "political and economic progress in all of East Asia" and lauded it as a partner in the administration's global war on terror and push for democracy in the Middle East. "Japanese leadership in advancing freedom is good for the Pacific community, and good for the world," she said.
Rice proposed a global development partnership in which the two big aid donors would "regularly and systematically" coordinate aid objectives and goals. And although the United States has supported Japan's interest in a permanent Security Council seat, U.S. officials said this is the first time a secretary of state has embraced it as part of a comprehensive policy statement.
Addressing one raw spot in U.S.-Japanese relations, Rice demanded that Japan end the ban on U.S. beef that has blocked about $1.7 billion in annual exports. The ban was imposed in December 2003 because of a case of mad cow disease in the United States. The two governments have agreed to loosen the ban to exclude cows 20 months or older, but a Japanese panel has taken months to review the decision.
"American meat is safe," Rice said. "There is a global standard on the science involved, and we must not let exceptionalism put at risk our ability to invest and trade our way to even greater shared prosperity."