Washington does not want Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bring up the issue of collective self-defense at the Japan-U.S. summit to be held later this month, diplomatic sources said.
The U.S. reaction comes as Abe hopes to bolster bilateral security ties by gaining President Barack Obama’s support for lifting Japan’s self-imposed ban on the right, which conflicts with Article 9 of the Constitution.
Washington has told Tokyo that if Obama openly welcomes Abe’s drive to allow Self-Defense Forces troops to engage in collective self-defense — the right to come to the defense of an ally under armed attack — it risks upsetting Beijing, which might interpret the gesture as an attempt by Japan and the U.S. to increase pressure on China, according to the sources.
U.S. officials also said during preparatory talks for the summit, set to be held Feb. 21 or 22, that heightening Sino-Japanese tensions with Washington’s close involvement could damage regional stability and harm the interests of Japan and the U.S., they said.
Ties between Tokyo and Beijing have sunk to their lowest level in years due to conflicting sovereignty claims over the Japan-held Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The sources quoted a senior U.S. official as telling Japan that the United States does not want the issue to be publicized at the summit. Tokyo will now need to quickly find another way of showing the rest of the world that the Japan-U.S. alliance is stronger, Japanese government sources said.
The U.S. Department of State is also reluctant to accept Tokyo’s proposal that Abe and Obama call for restraint on China’s maritime activities around the Senkakus, saying it could affect Washington’s relations with Beijing, they said.
Under the government’s current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution, Japan cannot permit itself to exercise the collective right of self-defense because doing so would go beyond the scope of self-defense as stipulated by the charter.
Futenma deal still eludes
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima failed Saturday to reach an accord on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
At a meeting in Naha during Abe’s first visit to Okinawa since taking office in December, Nakaima repeated his constituent’s “strong wish” to have the Futenma facility removed from the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces deployed in Japan.
“The Futenma base must not be fixed at the current place” in the crowded city of Ginowan, Abe said. “We will proceed based on our agreement with the United States (to relocate the base further north on Okinawa Island).”
Abe also told Nakaima that in its draft budget for fiscal 2013, his government boosted spending for Okinawa’s development to beyond ¥300 billion compared with a year ago.
“I will listen to your voices,” Abe stressed. “I hope to begin by re-establishing trust between us.”
Speaking to reporters afterward, Abe said his administration has no plans to submit a request to the Okinawa Prefectural Government for permission to conduct the landfill work required for the current Futenma relocation plan before he visits the United States later this month.