WASHINGTON – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and a top official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party agreed Thursday to strengthen bilateral relations and make efforts toward signing a Pacific free trade pact.
Shigeru Ishiba, the No. 2 man in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP, told reporters he and Biden agreed it is important that the Japan-U.S. alliance remains strong “to deal with various Chinese activities” in the Asia-Pacific region.
The LDP secretary general did not elaborate but was apparently referring to China’s maritime activities to press its claims in territorial disputes with other countries in the East China Sea and South China Sea, including Japan.
In addition to the concern over China’s maritime moves, Japan and the United States strongly reacted to the unilateral establishment by China toward the end of last year of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that overlaps similar zones operated by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
During their talks at the White House, Ishiba and Biden also agreed to try to achieve further progress in bilateral negotiations over sticking points in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, according to the Japanese lawmaker.
“Each of us has to make efforts. I know that no negotiations will be a success unless we make mutual concessions,” said Ishiba, a former defense minister and agriculture minister.
Japan and the United States have been stepping up efforts to bridge their gaps over Japan’s plan to keep tariffs on agricultural produce and U.S. calls for more access to the Japanese auto market in their talks on the 12-country TPP initiative.
Biden meanwhile welcomed a bid in Japan to lift a self-imposed ban on the use by the Self-Defense Forces of the right to collective self-defense in the event a Japanese ally comes under attack, Ishiba said.
The LDP-led government under Abe is working on allowing the SDF to use the right when necessary, challenging the decades-old ban under the current interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution.
Biden also promised to make efforts to reduce the burden on Okinawa of hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, Ishiba said.
Ishiba also met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Defense Department the same day and they agreed on the importance of enhancing trilateral cooperation with South Korea, according to another LDP lawmaker.
Hagel told Ishiba that the United States as a security ally supports Japan’s efforts to reform its security policies, according to Tatsuya Ito who heads the LDP’s International Bureau.
Ishiba arrived in Washington on Wednesday for a six-day trip to the U.S. capital and Boston for a series of meetings with top officials of the U.S. government and Congress among others.
Southeast Asia security
Phnom Penh Kyodo
The head of a three-member delegation touring Southeast Asia to explain changes in Japan’s security policy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday in Cambodia that Japan needs to boost its defense capacity to cope with various challenges.
“Japan is proud of enjoying peace over the past seven decades after the World War II,” Takio Yamada, deputy director general of policy planning and international security policy of the Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
But despite Japan’s consistent path as a peace-loving country since the war’s end, he said, the country now needs to increase its defense capacity to protect itself from increasingly severe threats to its security, as well as to become a “proactive contributor to peace” in the region and the world.
Among the threats Abe’s team has cited to press for changes to Japan’s Constitution and to justify building up the Self-Defense Forces are North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and heated territorial rows involving Japan and its neighbors — China in particular — as well as emerging threats like international terrorism and cyberattacks.
Cambodia is the last leg of the delegation’s three-nation trip over the past week that included visits to Singapore and Indonesia, which are also members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
They have been explaining Japan’s new “National Security Strategy” adopted by a Cabinet decision last December, which sets out the government’s fundamental policies pertaining to national security, centering on diplomatic policy and defense policy.