• Kyodo News

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Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, sounded positive Thursday on Japan’s future participation in U.S.-South Korea military exercises as part of efforts to address regional threats such as North Korea.

Willard told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo that “there’s a good chance at some point in the future” that Japan, he U.S. and South Korea can come together for exercises, given their discussions on further cooperation and their “natural interoperable capability.”

His remarks come amid growing calls for closer cooperation between Tokyo, Washington and Seoul to deter the North, following escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula caused by Pyongyang’s deadly artillery attack in November on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.

Following that incident, officers from the Self-Defense Forces participated in U.S.-South Korea exercises as observers, while South Korea was also an observer in subsequent Japan-U.S. exercises — moves Washington considers encouraging, Willard said.

Willard welcomed Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s remark that Tokyo will no longer use the term “sympathy budget” to describe host-nation support since the spending serves Japan’s strategic interests.

The commander also touched on China’s recent test-flight of the J-20 — which has been a topic of key interest for the United States as well as Beijing’s neighbors — and said the disclosure of China’s first radar-evading stealth fighter “does clearly represent an advancement in capability.”

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