In a bid to keep China in check, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera is making final arrangements to visit the Philippines and Hawaii from later this month, a government source said.
During his trip to Manila from June 26 and Hawaii on July 1, Onodera will stress the need to ensure maritime safety based on the rule of law amid China’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas, the source said.
In Manila, Onodera plans to discuss with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin the current tensions in the region and to work out a coordinated response toward China, the source said.
In Hawaii, the defense minister will reconfirm that the Japan-administered but China-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea fall under the scope of the bilateral security treaty with the U.S., which requires American forces to defend Japan in the event of an armed attack.
Onodera is also set to meet with Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, to discuss whether the two sides’ missile defense system is sufficient to deal with North Korea, given the recent progress of its missile and nuclear development programs.
Ahead of the July 4 start of the Upper House election campaign, the government hopes to use Onodera’s trip to assure conservatives at home that it is maintaining a hard-line stance on security issues, political analysts said.
Tokyo and Beijing remain at odds over the ownership of the Senkakus, known in China as Diaoyu. Japan denies the existence of any sovereignty dispute, arguing the islets are an inherent part of its territory in terms of history and international law.
China is also involved in a dispute with the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian nations over the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Both Tokyo and Manila have protested repeated incursions by Chinese vessels in their respective territorial waters near the Senkakus and the Spratlys.
Since taking office in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has looked to bolster Japan’s defense ties with Southeast Asian nations, and top Self-Defense Forces officials already have been dispatched to Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, among other destinations.