Japan and the US have agreed to discuss updating 15-year-old guidelines on their security alliance in view of China’s growing military presence in the region, a Japanese official said.
After meeting high-level US officials, Japanese Senior Vice Minister of Defense Akihisa Nagashima told Japanese media in Washington on Friday the two countries had “agreed to deepen Japan-US strategic consultations.”
He said the two countries were oriented “in the same direction” on Tokyo’s proposal to revise guidelines on Japan-US defense cooperation, which were introduced in 1997 with a focus on possible conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Nagashima was speaking after separate meetings with US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.
The agreement comes at a time when state-operated Chinese ships have been spotted loitering in waters near Japan-controlled islands at the center of a dispute with Taiwan and China, stoking fears of a maritime clash.
Japan’s nationalization in mid-September of three of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, has stoked tensions in the East China Sea, with Japan Coast Guard patrol ships chasing away Chinese flotillas.
In Washington, the two sides confirmed they would discuss reviewing their defense roles in the face of China’s military build up and its naval expansion, formulating joint plans and promoting joint use of defense bases, Nagashima was quoted as saying.
He said the US had assured him that: “[US President Barack Obama’s] administration’s tendency to place emphasis on Asia will accelerate in its second term.”
Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said in Tokyo on Friday that Japan had been proposing to Washington that talks on the guidelines be launched this year.
“The present guidelines were produced when the Korean Peninsula was in a tense situation,” he told a news conference, recalling a crisis heightened by North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile development.
“However, the East Asian situation is not limited to the Korean Peninsula and there is also the issue of China going to the ocean,” the former diplomat and university professor of security affairs said.
“We want to start the process of reviewing the state of the Japan-US alliance once again by taking into consideration the qualitative changes in security risks,” Morimoto said. “After 15 years, there are risks concerning terrorism, outer space, cyberspace, maritime stability and territorial issues.”
The recent deployment of US Marine Corps Osprey transport planes, perceived as unsafe by Okinawa residents, has heightened anti-US military sentiment on the strategically-vital islands of Okinawa.
The problem has been compounded by the alleged rape of a local woman by two US servicemen and the claimed assault of a schoolboy by another.