Officials from Japan and the United States involved in defense and foreign affairs began full-fledged consultations over revising bilateral guidelines on defense cooperation at working-level talks Thursday in Tokyo.
One focus of the revisions is likely to be how to beef up cooperation between the security allies in monitoring and surveillance activities as China moves to increase its maritime presence in the region.
Kurt Campbell, assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, expressed hope for a greater role to be played by the Self-Defense Forces, telling reporters in Tokyo that the United States is interested in “concrete areas where the United States and Japan can work more effectively together.”
Citing freedom of navigation as one such area, he expressed confidence in working together toward a goal that will be welcome in the “broader region as a whole.”
The efforts to revise the guidelines are expected to be made alongside discussions on enabling Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense, which is banned under the government’s current interpretation of the Constitution but being sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japan and the United States also hope to deepen their alliance in areas that are not confined to those surrounding Japan, such as U.N. peacekeeping operations in various parts of the world, antipiracy missions and fighting cyberterrorism.
Thursday’s meeting involved Hiroyuki Namazu, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Japan-U.S. Security Treaty Division; and Kazuo Masuda, director of the Defense Ministry’s Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Division; as well as Marc Knapper, director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at the State Department; and Christopher Johnstone, director for Northeast Asia at the Defense Department.
The Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines were first drawn up in 1978 at the height of the Cold War with a Soviet invasion in mind. The current bilateral guidelines, compiled in 1997, mainly focus on emergencies on the Korean Peninsula.
The 1997 guidelines divide bilateral defense cooperation into three scenarios, one under normal circumstances, one for an armed attack against Japan, and one for crises in “areas surrounding Japan.”
The guidelines have a particular focus on the division of labor between the two countries’ militaries under the third and last scenario, which is seen as having a high probability of occurring.
In the latest consultations, the participants are expected to focus on strengthening cooperation in intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance activities under normal circumstances, and to enhance deterrence.
The efforts reflect a response to China’s growing assertiveness around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and North Korea’s rocket launches, which are suspected of being covers for testing ballistic missile technology.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the consultations would delve into the possible expansion of roles played by the SDF. The revisions are expected to take a year or two to finish, according to sources.