WASHINGTON – New U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis will not ask Japan and South Korea to pay a bigger share of the expenses associated with hosting U.S. forces when he visits the two key Asian allies this week, according to Japanese and U.S. government sources.
Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis meanwhile said the purpose of Mattis’ visit to South Korea on Thursday and Japan on Friday and Saturday is “not to roll out any big changes in U.S. policy.”
“It will mostly be a chance for him to listen, meet the parties involved there … and make sure we’re positioned, going forward, to be able to continue the strong alliances we have,” Davis told reporters Monday, referring to Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general.
“He wants to find out what their concerns are,” Davis said.
President Donald Trump, who took office Jan. 20, demanded during the campaign that Japan, South Korea and other U.S. allies increase their share of the costs of deploying U.S. troops in their territory — or else defend themselves.
Davis said Japan and South Korea are “our most important Pacific allies,” and they are “crucial to peace and stability in the region” whose security situation has become increasingly severe due to the rise of China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Mattis plans to hold talks with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo in Seoul on Thursday before meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada during a two-day trip to Tokyo starting Friday.
The trip will precede what will be the first summit between Abe and Trump on Feb. 10 in Washington.
On Tuesday, Abe said he will urge Trump during the summit to maintain the U.S. military presence in Japan and the surrounding region.
“I want to tell (Trump) that U.S. leadership and the U.S. presence are especially needed in the Asia-Pacific region and that it’s necessary for the U.S. (to play) the role it has (played) until now,” Abe told the Upper House Budget Committee.
Abe said he wants to confirm the requirement under the bilateral security treaty for the U.S. to “act to meet the common danger” if Japan comes under armed attack.
“Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty is highly important,” he said. “I want this meeting to reaffirm and demonstrate to the world that there is no change to the fundamental (fact) that in an emergency, the U.S. military will come to our aid and we will jointly respond.”
In Seoul, Mattis and Han are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear threat and the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to South Korea.
China has strongly opposed the THAAD deployment, saying it could undermine its security interests and the region’s strategic balance.