Mr. Noda, Mr. Obama and the alliance

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on April 30 and later issued a joint statement underlining the importance of “the U.S.-Japan Alliance” as “the cornerstone of peace, security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Clearly an important point in the joint statement is China’s military buildup, although there was no mentioning of China. It called for stepped up defense cooperation between Japan and the United States. Defense measures may serve to check China’s moves, but they are unlikely to contribute to the creation of a trusting and stable relationship among the three nations. Japan and the U.S. should make serious diplomatic and other efforts to enhance such a positive relationship.

Mr. Noda is the first Democratic Party of Japan prime minister to make an official visit to the U.S. The joint statement is the first top-level joint statement since the one issued in 2006 by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then U.S. President George W. Bush. Apparently Mr. Noda tried to mend Japan’s relationship with the U.S., which has become strained over the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded urban area of Ginowan on Okinawa Island.

During the meeting, the two leaders did not delve deeply into the Futenma issue in view of the strong opposition in Okinawa to the plan to transfer the Futenma’s functions to the less populated Henoko area in the northern part of the island and because of the skepticism about the plan expressed by influential U.S. senators like Mr. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Noda refrained from announcing Japan’s intention to participate fully in talks on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade zone in view of strong opposition within the DPJ.

The joint statement mentions Japan and the U.S.’ respective security commitments — the development of Japan’s “dynamic defense force,” which includes strengthening the Self-Defense Forces’ warning and surveillance capabilities in the Nansei Islands, including Okinawa, and the U.S.’ plan to disperse its Marine Corps task forces in Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii and Australia for a more “operationally resilient force posture in the region.”

As part of their defense cooperation, an SDF unit reportedly will be stationed at a U.S. base on Tinian Island in the Western Pacific for joint training. But this could run counter to the spirit of Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution. The Diet should discuss the matter carefully.