• Kyodo

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Visiting Japanese national security adviser Shigeru Kitamura on Wednesday affirmed with top U.S. government officials their close bilateral ties in the wake of the first change in Japanese leadership in nearly eight years, a government official said.

Under new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who succeeded Shinzo Abe last week, Tokyo will continue to strengthen the bilateral alliance while bolstering its defense capabilities and deterrence force, Kitamura, the head of Japan’s National Security Secretariat, said during talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

In a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun later in the day, Kitamura said the Japan-U.S. alliance will remain the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign and security policy and that Japan will continue to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific, a vision seen to be aimed at countering China’s clout in the region.

Kitamura, meanwhile, explained to Esper the study taking place over an alternative to the deployment of land-based, U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense units, a plan the Japanese government decided to give up in June, according to the official.

The two Aegis Ashore batteries were expected to add a layer of protection to Japan’s existing two tiers of missile defense in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

But the Japanese government found that potentially costly and time-consuming upgrades would become necessary to ensure the safety of nearby residents during missile interception operations.

The Japanese government has since started discussions to come up with a new plan for dealing with missile threats by the end of the year.

Other issues that were discussed during the two meetings on Wednesday included bilateral cooperation on space and economic security as well as North Korea, and the East and South China seas, where China’s maritime assertiveness has been growing, the official said.

Kitamura, a former top intelligence officer, has been serving in his current post since September last year.

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