WASHINGTON – Japan and the United States will start discussions shortly on a planned revision to the guidelines for their defense cooperation, sources said.
Foreign and Defense ministry officials will gather in Washington around mid-January to mark the start of full-fledged talks on the revision, according to the sources.
Amid China’s rapid expansion of its maritime activities and military capabilities, the focus of the discussions will be on how the revised guidelines should define the roles to be shared by Japan and the United States in the field of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), the sources said.
Ahead of the bilateral talks, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will confirm over the telephone the need for the two nations to deepen their security alliance.
Main participants in the upcoming discussions on the guidelines will be division heads and equivalent officials, who will concentrate on work to identify key points at issue.
The outcome of the bilateral discussions will be announced later this year at the so-called Two-Plus-Two talks among foreign and defense ministers from Japan and the United States.
After this, the two nations will discuss the language of the revised guidelines. All work related to the planned revision is expected to be completed in 2014 at the earliest, the sources said.
ISR is a relatively new concept in defense cooperation intended to cover situations that neither constitute peace nor an emergency, such as the situation in the area of Japan, which is having to deal with stepped-up maritime patrols by Chinese vessels encroaching near the Japan-held Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China also claims the islets.
In the United States, officials want the Self-Defense Forces not to limit their activities to the immediate vicinity of the Senkakus, which are considered part of Okinawa, and to serve outside Japanese territory.
Another key issue for the planned guideline revision will be how to enhance cooperation in their responses to cyber-attacks and how to bolster their missile defenses.
Taking into account U.S. military realignments over the past few years in Japan, the revised guidelines are seen as including the expansion of joint military drills and the enhanced sharing of military installations.
The results of the discussions will be reflected in Japan’s national defense guidelines, which will be reviewed at the instructions of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Washington will include the discussion results in its quadrennial defense review report anticipated for around 2014.
After the two nations revise the defense cooperation guidelines, they will move on to make amendments to their domestic laws and compile detailed plans on defense cooperation.
Japan and the United States agreed to revise the defense cooperation guidelines at a meeting of their defense ministers last August.
The two nations aimed to start the full-fledged talks in December, but did not do so because of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch and Japan’s change of government.
The two nations last revised their guidelines in 1997. In the current guidelines, the two sides made the language on the range of Japan’s cooperation as modest as possible, hoping the guidelines will not anger China or South Korea.
Abe has proposed allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective defense, a move that would significantly affect the future of the two nations’ defense cooperation. Some U.S. officials regard this as an opportunity to get Japan to play a larger role in bilateral defense cooperation.