SEOUL – A senior U.S. official on a visit to South Korea has defended the ongoing revision of defense cooperation guidelines between Washington and Tokyo, saying the process will “strengthen peace and stability” across the Asia-Pacific region.
“This guideline revision will not only strengthen U.S.-Japan relations,” Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear told reporters Monday.
Shear made the remarks after he and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel held talks with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Lee Kyung-soo and met briefly with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
The talks were focused on briefing South Korea on the defense guideline revision with Japan. An interim report on the matter is due later this week, a U.S. Defense Department official said.
The U.S. effort reflects South Korean concerns about the possible expansion of Japan’s defense capability under the alliance with the United States, after the Abe administration eased the self-imposed ban on collective self-defense this summer, enabling Japan to play a greater role in security affairs.
Russel was scheduled to visit Japan later Monday, and Shear, who took up the post this summer, planned to leave for Tokyo on Tuesday after meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo.
The Abe administration has yet to submit to the Diet any bills that back the defense policy change.
Given that the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, South Korea is generally cautious about any increase in the activities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
On Wednesday, Japan and the United States plan to release a midterm report in Tokyo on the first review since 1997 of the guidelines, which detail the roles of the U.S. military and the SDF in various contingencies.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government changed the interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution in July, in a bid to enable the SDF to use the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack.
In Tokyo, meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga touched on the high-level talks between North and South Korea over the weekend, saying Japan has been “closely watching” developments.
Japan will “continue to keep close contact with South Korea and the United States in dealing with issues related to North Korea,” including talks aimed at the North’s denuclearization, Suga said.
The North’s high-level delegation is headed by Hwang Pyong So, the newly appointed director of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau, which is the highest post in the military. He met Saturday with Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and top-ranking officials from the South’s presidential office.
They agreed to hold another round of talks in late October or early November. Saturday’s meeting came after the North’s delegation made a surprise visit to the close of the Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.
Suga was asked if the development between the two Koreas will have a positive impact on Japan-North Korea talks on the abduction issue. He didn’t answer the question directly, saying only that Tokyo has “given the issue top priority” and has urged Pyongyang “to promptly report on its findings from the investigation into (the missing) Japanese.”