Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that updated bilateral defense cooperation guidelines will “transform the U.S.-Japan alliance” and enable the two countries’ forces to “cooperate seamlessly” to respond to challenges around the world.
Last revised in 1997, the bilateral defense guidelines set out roles for the U.S. military and the Self-Defense Forces to engage in joint operations.
They focus on the defense of Japan and emergencies in the surrounding region, but an interim report on the new guidelines released in October called for more global military cooperation between the two nations.
The new guidelines “detail how our two governments will continue to work together around the world and in new domains such as space and cyberspace . . . to ensure Japan’s peace and security,” Carter said at a joint news conference with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani after their meeting in Tokyo.
“They will help us respond flexibly to the full scope of challenges we face . . . in the Asia-Pacific and around the globe.”
Nakatani said he and Carter agreed to work toward an early conclusion of the revisions and pledged to strengthen the bilateral alliance further, which is critical to Japan’s “safety as well as peace and stability in the region.”
The new guidelines are expected to be unveiled at a so-called two-plus-two meeting of the Japanese and U.S. defense and foreign affairs ministers in the U.S. later this month before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets President Barack Obama on April 28 for a summit in Washington.
Carter also said Washington supports Japan’s efforts to play a more “proactive role” in regional peace and security as the Abe administration prepares new security legislation to expand the scope of the SDF’s activities.
Abe’s Cabinet decided last summer to allow the nation to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
“The opportunity to revise the guidelines while Japan considers its own security legislation has been very beneficial,” Carter said. “We understand and respect the decision on Japan’s security legislation.”
On the contentious plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, Carter expressed appreciation for “the efforts of the government of Japan to help move forward on this topic” but didn’t elaborate.
He said only that Washington is “trying to do our own part,” which involves the return of land to Japan and transfer of refueling tankers.
Nakatani said the two sides reconfirmed that moving Futenma’s functions to a new air station in Nago was “the sole solution to avoid continuous use of Futenma.”
Nakatani said he also called for further U.S. cooperation to lessen the military burden on Okinawa.
Meanwhile, Carter assured Nakatani that the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are covered by the bilateral security treaty along with other territories under Japan’s control.
“I also reaffirmed President Obama’s . . . commitment to apply our security treaty to all areas under Japanese administration and our continued strong opposition to any unilateral, coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administrative control of the Senkaku Islands,” Carter said.
Saying that military strength ultimately rests on the foundation of an economy, Carter called for an early conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
“TPP will strengthen the economic power of the United States and many of its allies and partners including Japan,” he said. “It will help us promote both the interests we share and the rules-based international order that has served Japan, the United States and every Asia-Pacific nation for so long.”
It was Carter’s first visit to Japan since he assumed the defense chief post in February. He will travel to Seoul on Thursday.