US Vice President Mike Pence yesterday visited a Japanese Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile battery — Japan’s last line of defense against any possible North Korean missile strike — in Tokyo on his way to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Pence watched the battery raised to a firing position and got a briefing before shaking hands with members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
He was accompanied by Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera and Japan’s highest ranking military officer, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano.
“I’m happy to have the opportunity to deepen the US understanding of Japan’s tough security environment,” Onodera said.
Pence was to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later yesterday for talks expected to showcase the tight US-Japan security alliance in the face of the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Pence stopped short of ruling out the prospect of meeting senior North Korean officials, but US President Donald Trump has cast doubt on US negotiations with Pyongyang any time soon.
The White House has also cautioned against reading too much into remarks made by Pence en route to Japan.
Before arriving, Pence said his message to the North was clear: “My message — whatever the setting, whoever is present — will be the same, and that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions.”
Abe’s close aide, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, reiterated Japan’s tough stance, saying: “We must not be fooled by North Korea’s ‘smile diplomacy.’”
Concern about North Korea is pushing Japan to update its missile defense. Besides extending the range and increasing the accuracy of its Patriot system, it is to add two US-made ground-based Aegis radar stations and interceptors and plans to add to its arsenal air-fired cruise missiles that can strike North Korean missile sites.
Pence is also likely to stress the need for close coordination among the US, Japan and South Korea over the North’s threat.
He is also to meet Japanese Minister of Finance Taro Aso, who is Pence’s counterpart in economic talks, although trade friction is expected to take a backseat to security during Pence’s visit.
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