Japan, US fortify military ties with drones. Will China take note? (+video)
The US and Japan signed an expanded military alliance Thursday in a deal that will bring US long-range drones to Japan for the first time.
Japan and the US have agreed to strengthen their alliance to address¬†threats to regional security from North Korea‚Äôs missile program and¬†China‚Äôs increasingly robust claims to disputed island territories, in the first broadening of the two powers' military alliance in nearly two decades.
The 10-page joint statement, which was finalized by the Japanese and¬†US defense ministers in Tokyo¬†on Thursday, included cooperation on¬†a wide range of issues, from cyber-attacks and terrorism, to security¬†in space and joint military exercises.
"Japan is changing and so is its neighborhood," US Secretary of¬†State John Kerry told reporters after the ‚Äútwo-plus-two‚ÄĚ meeting between the US and Japanese foreign and defense ministers.¬†"So we're coming together now to modernize our deep cooperation,¬†through both our military alliances and our diplomatic partnerships,¬†and that is so we can better prevent and respond to the ever-changing¬†threats of the 21st century."
The Asia-Pacific has become vulnerable to new threats in the 16 years¬†since the allies last revamped their defense partnership.¬†
North Korea has continued to develop nuclear weapons and a long-range¬†ballistic missile program, in defiance of the international community.¬†China, meanwhile, is causing concern with its dramatic rise in¬†military spending and aggressive claims to maritime territories.
Relations between China and Japan have deteriorated sharply in the¬†past year over their rival claims to the Senkaku islands ‚Äď known as¬†the Diaoyu in China ‚Äď in the East China Sea.
With the Senkaku dispute in mind, Tokyo and Washington agreed to¬†deploy long-range surveillance drones to monitor the islands by next¬†spring, in a move that could further raise tensions with China.
The revamped guidelines do not mention the Senkakus by name, but the¬†decision to base US Global Hawk drones at American bases in Japan for¬†the first time is a sign of growing disquiet over frequent Chinese¬†maritime activity near the islands.
Publicly, the US has refused to takes sides over the dispute but¬†recognizes it must help defend Japanese territory under bilateral¬†treaty obligations. Japan¬†administers the islands, which are¬†uninhabited but surrounded by potentially large deposits of natural¬†gas. Japan¬†bought the islands from their private owners just over a¬†year ago, and argues that China only began voicing a claim in the 1970s, when studies suggested that oil and gas deposits might be found near the islands.¬†
"We strongly oppose any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to¬†undermine Japan's administrative control," said US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Japan‚Äôs foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, said the security environment¬†in the Asia-Pacific had become ‚Äúincreasingly severe,‚ÄĚ and issued a¬†thinly veiled warning to China not to raise tensions over the¬†Senkakus. "We are decidedly opposed to the attempt to change the¬†status quo through coercion,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúRule of law is critically¬†important."
The US and Japanese joint statement urged China to "play a responsible and¬†constructive role in regional stability and prosperity, to adhere to¬†international norms of behavior."
Officials in China, which is marking a week-long national holiday, have¬†yet to respond to the new agreement. The country‚Äôs foreign ministry,¬†however, has previously criticized the deployment of the first¬†military radar system in Japan, saying it would destabilize the¬†region.
To counter the threat from North Korea, Japan and the US agreed to¬†position a second X-band radar system in Japan within the next year.¬†The radar will enable Tokyo to track missiles from the North aimed at¬†either country.
Mr. Kerry repeated Washington‚Äôs offer of a non-aggression treaty with¬†Pyongyang, provided it abandons its nuclear weapons program and¬†complies with UN resolutions on ballistic missile development.
At the meeting, the officials, who also included Japan‚Äôs defense minister, Itsunori¬†Onodera, discussed the delicate issue of the US military presence on¬†the island of Okinawa, home to the bulk of US military bases in Japan.
In a bid to reduce tensions between US troops and Okinawa residents,¬†Japan agreed to contribute $3.1 billion toward the $8.6 billion¬†cost of relocating about 9,000 marines from the island, including¬†5,000 to the US Pacific territory of Guam.
The new defense guidelines come as the Obama administration attempts¬†to shift its attention on the Asia-Pacific region, and as Japan‚Äôs¬†prime minister, Shinzo Abe, seeks to bolster his country‚Äôs military¬†capabilities.
In a speech in the US last week, Mr. Abe said Japan should no longer be a¬†‚Äúweak link‚ÄĚ in global security, and should play a more active role in its¬†alliance with the US.¬†