At a time when Tokyo and Washington have much work to do together, new Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s first visit to the U.S. capital went smoothly, despite her reputation as a hardliner.
During her first meeting with her American counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the two denounced North Korea, which conducted its fifth nuclear test last week, calling it a violation of United Nations resolutions, according to the Defense Ministry.
The two agreed to work together to counter the “grave threats to the national security of both Japan and the United States.”
Carter also guaranteed that Japan is covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the ministry said. Carter’s reassurance on the issue came after The New York Times recently reported that U.S. President Barack Obama considered abandoning the first-use option of a nuclear weapon in a conflict, only to scrap the idea after its Asian allies voiced strong concern.
The recent testing of a nuclear weapon by North Korea put Japan, the United States and South Korea on high alert, forcing them to recalibrate the North’s nuclear capabilities. Some experts said the North may be capable of hitting Washington and New York with nuclear missiles.
Tokyo and Washington are also working together on another U.N. resolution to punish Pyongyang. But both capitals need to engage in delicate diplomacy with China, a key player, to enforce sanctions effectively, amid complicated bilateral relations over China’s aggressive military muscle flexing in the South and East China seas.
Inada and Carter also agreed that the ruling by the International Arbitration Court in The Hague over the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines is final, saying they uphold the principle of freedom of navigation and emphasizing the importance of maritime operations based on international law, the ministry added.
The two chiefs also pledged to cooperate in providing capacity building to neighboring countries. The comments came after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this week said that U.S. troops should stay out of his country, it said.
While bilateral relations between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute is worrying, Carter also reaffirmed that the disputed islands are both under Japanese administration and fall under Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty.
Chinese government vessels have recently been entering Japan’s territorial waters and hundreds of Chinese fishing boats have been sent to waters near the Senkakus, an uninhabited group of islands also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Before her speech, Inada addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where she called on China to engage in talks.
“My ministry will continue to keep the door open for constructive dialogue with China,” said Inada, according to a transcript released by CSIS. “As Japanese defense minister, I would like to seek opportunities to engage in candid discussions with Chinese counterparts.”
Carter also welcomed the new roles that the Self-Defense Forces will assume based on the new security legislation. SDF personnel who will be sent to South Sudan in November as part of the United Nations Missions in the Republic of South Sudan (UMISS) started training to guard the camp in the capital, Juba, as well as engaging in kaketuske keigo, or coming to the aid of other nations’ peacekeeping troops and civilians under fire.
Inada was scheduled to travel to Juba following her U.S. visit, but canceled her trip due to an allergic reaction to an anti-malarial vaccination.
The defense ministers also touched on the highly charged issue of relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to the district of Henoko, according to the Defense Ministry. Inada repeated Tokyo’s stance that the relocation to Henoko is the only solution, it said.
In response, Carter said the U.S. government will continue to cooperate with the Japanese government to realize such a goal.
Her comments came as the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court on Friday ruled against Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who the central government charges acted illegally by not complying with an order to retract his revocation of a landfill permit.