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Top U.S. general reaffirms commitment to Japan's defense

• Dunford meets with Kawano, Abe • 'Attack on one is attack on both' • Ways to engage N. Korea discussed

Reuters, JIJI

America’s top general restated Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the security of Japan on Friday amid regional tensions over North Korea, telling his counterpart in Tokyo that “an attack on one is an attack on both of us.”

“The most important thing (the meeting) did was reaffirm the primacy of our bilateral relationship here in Asia-Pacific,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the start of his meeting with Japanese Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff of the Self-Defense Forces.

“This is a very important time for security in the region and of course we are mostly focused on the threat coming out of North Korea,” Dunford said, referring to the bilateral “two-plus-two” meeting of foreign affairs and defense chiefs. “I think we have made it clear to North Korea and anyone else in the region that an attack on one is an attack on both of us.”

Fears about war breaking out with North Korea have grown since Pyongyang said it was considering plans to fire missiles over Japan toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to have delayed the decision for the time being as the U.S. and South Korea prepare to hold a joint military exercise.

On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and their Japanese counterparts agreed at their two-plus-two meeting in Washington to work more closely on the issue.

On Friday, Dunford also met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who agreed that the U.S. and Japan must ratchet up pressure on the North.

“Japan highly evaluates U.S. President Trump for clarifying that the United States will take all possible measures to protect its allies,” Abe told Dunford.

Abe also signaled that Japan is eager to strengthen its alliance with the United States amid growing threats from North Korea.

Dunford pointed out that the partnership between the SDF and the U.S. military is very strong and expressed hopes for further advancing defense and other cooperation between the two allies.

The United States and Japan were able to reaffirm their commitment to the very strong bilateral alliance in the two-plus-two talks in Washington on Thursday, Dunford affirmed.

Abe and Dunford agreed that it is important to thoroughly implement U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against North Korea, including a new one adopted earlier this month following the two intercontinental ballistic missile tests by the reclusive country in July.

They confirmed that Japan and the United States will take concrete steps, including on missile defense, to bolster their defense capabilities.

They also shared concerns about Chinese government ships’ repeated intrusions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and the development of military facilities in the South China Sea by Beijing. The Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Regarding U.S. military bases in Japan, Abe pointed out that the support of host communities is crucial to maintaining the stability of the bilateral alliance. Dunford expressed willingness to work with Japan on the issue.

Also Friday, William Hagerty, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, said he had arrived at a difficult time and that the U.S. wants to work with Japan to “calm the rhetoric” over North Korea.

“Our alliance is rock solid, in fact in my personal view this is the greatest alliance on earth,” he said as he met Abe.

Trump warned North Korea recently it will face “fire and fury” if it threatens the United States, prompting North Korea to say it is considering plans to fire missiles toward Guam.

Both sides have since tempered their rhetoric, but with North Korea’s military capabilities growing, Japan has been looking to strengthen its defenses.

Tensions have risen since North Korea conducted two missile tests in July which, like its five atomic bomb tests, were carried out in defiance of international pressure and United Nations resolutions.

The Defense Ministry wants to introduce a land-based missile defense system called Aegis Ashore to address North Korea’s missile threats and has decided to seek funding in the next fiscal year to cover the system design costs, a ministry official said.

“We will absolutely help and what’s most important for ballistic missile defense is that we integrate our capabilities,” Dunford said.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono said in Washington that Japan will strengthen its defense posture in response to the North Korean threat and provide $500 million to help boost maritime security in East Asia, where China has been pursuing extensive maritime claims that have angered regional neighbors.

Japan is likely to increase its defense spending at a faster pace in its next five-year plan, starting in April 2019, than the annual 0.8 percent average rise in its current mid-term plan, the Nikkei business daily reported Friday.

Defense officials have said such a rise is desirable, but Finance Ministry officials are cautious because of Tokyo’s mammoth public debt.

North Korea has repeatedly threatened to target Japan, which hosts around 54,000 U.S. military personnel, as well as South Korea and the United States, with its missiles.