The US on Friday stressed its commitment to the defense of Japan and stability in the Asia-Pacific region against a backdrop of increasingly assertive territorial claims by China.
After a meeting with Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida, US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the importance of the US-Japan relationship, which both countries say remains robust in spite of a bump after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in December last year.
Kerry said that the US and Japan were committed to closer security collaboration and stressed the long-standing US commitment to defend Japan if it is attacked.
“I ... underscored that the United States remains as committed as ever to upholding our treaty obligations with our Japanese allies,” Kerry told reporters after talks with Kishida.
“That includes with respect to the East China Sea,” Kerry said.
He reiterated that Washington “neither recognizes nor accepts” the air defense identification zone China has declared in the region that it disputes with
Kerry also said the US would not change how it conducts operations there.
“We are deeply committed to maintaining the prosperity and the stability in the Asia-Pacific,” Kerry said.
The US flew B-52 bombers through the Chinese zone after it was declared last year.
US officials have warned that any declaration by Beijing of another such zone in the South China Sea could result in changes to US military deployments in the region.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) attacked Kerry’s remarks in a statement yesterday, saying China’s air-defense zone was fully in line with international law and norms.
“We urge the US side to stop making irresponsible remarks so as not to harm regional stability and the China-US relationship,” Hong said.
In a separate statement Hong also said that any policy adjustment by the US in the Asia-Pacific region “must work for regional peace and stability.”
He was responding to remarks in a Tuesday briefing in Washington by US State Department Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel that the US plans to intensify efforts to rebalance its policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
Kerry said he planned to visit China and other Asian countries next week.
Kishida’s Washington visit comes at a time of growing concerns in Tokyo as to the long-term ability and willingness of the US to defend Japan in spite of US President Barack Obama’s stated policy of rebalancing the US’ military and economic focus toward Asia in response to China’s growing clout.
Such concerns have added momentum to Abe’s drive to beef up Japan’s air and naval forces while loosening constitutional limits on action that its military can take abroad.
After an agreement drawn up by Kerry and Kishida and their countries’ defense ministers last year, the allies have begun revising guidelines on defense cooperation last updated in 1997, aiming to complete a revamp by the end of this year.
Washington has long encouraged Tokyo to take a greater share of the bilateral security burden, but US officials have not made clear if they want Japan to acquire greater offensive capability.
Kerry made no mention of Abe’s controversial visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which prompted an expression of disappointment from Washington and chilled Tokyo’s often thorny ties with the other key US ally in North Asia, South Korea.