US and Japanese officials said yesterday they would position a second early-warning radar in Japan within the next year and deploy new long-range surveillance drones to help monitor disputed islands in the East China Sea by next spring, moves that may well raise tensions with China.
The foreign and defense ministers of the two countries also, for the first time, put a price on what Japan will contribute to the relocation of US Marines out of Okinawa to Guam and other locations in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan is to pay up to US$3.1 billion for the move, which includes the development of new facilities in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The announcements came at the close of high-level meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. The talks, ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visits to Indonesia and Brunei next week, were aimed at modernizing the US-Japanese alliance that both sides maintain is a cornerstone of peace and stability in North Asia.
The new X-band radar system would boost Japan’s ability to track and intercept missiles from across the Sea of Japan (known as the “East Sea” in South Korea) and is to be set up on the west coast. Officials have said it is aimed at protecting the region against the threat from North Korea and is not directed at China, but the drones — two or three that will fly out of a US base — are designed in part to help step up surveillance around the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台列嶼), known as the Senkakus in Japan, a source of heated debate between Japan and China, and which are also claimed by Taiwan.
More broadly the documents agreed to yesterday contain no direct mention of the Diaoyutais, easily one of the most contentious issues affecting security in the Pacific.
The territorial dispute over the remote, uninhabited islands has badly soured China-Japan relations, and led to bellicose talk and actions from both sides.
The US has watched warily as tensions between Japan and China have heated up over the islands. Successive US administrations have held the position that the two nations must sort out their differences over the islands peacefully and that remains the case. US officials said the position was so well known that there was no need to address it in the agreements.
A senior US official traveling with Kerry said Washington would continue to make the point that while it takes no side on the question of the islands’ sovereignty, it recognizes Japan’s administration of them and has a responsibility to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.
The US official said the administration continues to believe that the most effective policy is to continue to make those points publicly and privately, while encouraging the two sides to tone down rhetoric and refrain from actions that may be seen by the other as provocative.
It is not in US interests, nor those of Japan or China, for the chill between Tokyo and Beijing to be prolonged, the official said.
The islands stir a depth of nationalist passion that belies their size and remoteness. Over the past year, the Japan Coast Guard says there have been more than 200 intrusions by foreign vessels into Japanese-claimed waters near the islands. The closest call came in February, when Japan said a Chinese ship locked its weapons fire-control radar onto a Japanese ship in a hostile act. China denied it.