The US and Japan on Monday reaffirmed a joint commitment made last year that the protection of Taiwan is a "common strategic objective" of both countries, as they pledged to further strengthen their bilateral military cooperation.
The reaffirmation came as Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga began a three-day visit to Washington to sign an agreement on a realignment of US forces stationed in bases in Japan and deal with a broad range of security issues.
The realignment agreement was signed late on Monday.
The two ministers met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the so-called "2 plus 2" meeting under the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee.
"The ministers affirmed their commitment to close cooperation in realizing the common strategic objectives the Security Consultative Committee [SCC] identified in February 2005," the four ministers said after their meeting.
"The ministers stressed the imperative of strengthening and improving the effectiveness of bilateral security and defense cooperation in such areas as ballistic missile defense, bilateral contingency planning, information sharing and intelligence cooperation," as well as boosting the interoperability of the two nations' armed forces, they said.
During the meeting in February last year, also in Washington and involving Rice and Rumsfeld, Japan for the first time publicly identified the defense and security of Taiwan as a "common strategic objective."
According to reports at the time, that statement marked a major shift in Japan's strategic view of Taiwan and Japan's own relations with China. Previously, Tokyo appeared content to let the US bear the brunt of any defense of Taiwan. The statement also evoked a sharp rebuke from Beijing, whose military buildup in recent years has been a source of increasing concern in Japan.
The reaffirmation shows that "there's no regret about that `2 plus 2' statement in February 2005," said Mike Green, the former head of East Asian affairs at the National Security Council and now an academic at the Center for Strategic and International Relations in Washington. "They're moving full speed ahead, and that's a good sign for peace in the Taiwan Strait."
The talks this week are very important for Taiwan, Green said, because of the difficulty in arranging such talks. The fact they have taken place debunks rumors of drift in the US-Japan alliance in recent months, he said.
"The administration is still very focused on the alliance with Japan and on implementing the specifics of that `2 plus 2' agreement last February ... which is a good thing from Taipei's perspective," he said.
In terms of joint US-Japan missile defense activities, which could come into play in the event of a Chinese missile attack on Taiwan, The "2 plus 2" session finalized an agreement for US Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile batteries to be deployed at US facilities in Japan.
These will become operational "at the earliest possible time," a fact sheet issued by the State Department said.
In addition, both sides pledged to "deploy additional capabilities and improve their respective ballistic missile defense capabilities" and to strengthen coordination.
For Aso, who is an ardent nationalist, harsh critic of China and strong supporter of Taiwan, the trip also has a personal aspect, according to Japan analyst Edward Lincoln of the Council of Foreign Relations and the director of a US-Japan center at New York University.