/

U.S. defense official praises Abe for bolstering military alliance

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

A high-ranking U.S. defense official visiting Tokyo said Friday that the U.S. appreciates recent actions taken by the Abe administration to bolster the Japan-U.S. military alliance.

In particular, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work mentioned the decision to reinterpret the Constitution to permit the use of collective self-defense, the easing of Japan’s long-held ban on weapons exports, and the progress being made on the Futenma base relocation plan in Okinawa Prefecture.

“We strongly welcome Japan’s Cabinet decision permitting collective self-defense,” Work said after meeting parliamentary vice minister Ryota Takeda.

Work added that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision will allow for an “ambitious revision” to be made to the Japan-U.S. defense guidelines and allow Japan to play a bigger military role.

“We believe (the Japan-U.S. alliance ) is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said at a news conference at the Defense Ministry.

Work also said he is “very, very excited and gratified” by Japan’s recent efforts to get an airfield built off Nago in Okinawa Prefecture to replace the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma further south in Ginowan.

The preliminary drilling survey that began last week on the sea bottom has drawn strong protests from local anti-military activists, and whether to approve the Futenma relocation plan is likely to be the biggest issue in the Okinawa gubernatorial election in December.

Work expressed his “appreciation to Japan’s efforts to move forward” with the project, which has been stymied by various protests for about two decades.

“This is a major accomplishment,” he said.

Many Okinawa residents opposed the plan because they believe it will strengthen the U.S. Marines’ presence in the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

Abe is pushing the project forward to underline his commitment to the Japan-U.S. military alliance.