US, Japan announce expansion of defense ties
TOKYO — The United States and Japan will expand defense ties over cyberspace and regional security threats as they finalized the first revision of security guidelines between the two allies since 1997, defense chiefs from both nations announced here Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani also reaffimed opposition to the use of coercion and force in the East and South China Seas, where several nations hold competing claims on island territories.
"It's one of the kinds of conduct that is contrary to everything our system of alliances stands for," Carter said, in his first trip to Asia as defense secretary.
China maintains an ambiguous claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea and its many islands and rocks. Although the defense chiefs didn't call out China specifically, its forces have had low-level skirmishes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in recent years.
The expanded defense ties announced Wednesday are expected to reflect a change in Japan's pacifist constitution.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is poised to pass legislation that would allow its Self-Defense Forces to engage in “collective self-defense” for the first time in its post-World War II history. The move would allow Japan to defend its allies, including the United States, if they were attacked.
Japan’s current laws allow it only to defend its own forces and territory. Last year, the Abe cabinet reinterpreted the Japanese constitution to allow for the change, a move criticized by opposition lawmakers.
The U.S.-written 1947 constitution states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
U.S. officials have been generally supportive of Japan’s push to allow collective self-defense, since it would give its forces more flexibility in working with Japan throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. and Japan are expected to sign the new defense guidelines by the middle of the year.
Carter’s visit to Japan comes ahead of Abe’s visit scheduled eight-day visit to the U.S., beginning April 26. During that time, Abe has been invited to speak before a joint session on Congress.
Besides defense issues, Abe is expected to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping 12-country trade agreement supported by Obama and key congressional Republicans. The pact, whose only details are known from leaks of secret negotiations, is opposed by groups with concerns as diverse as Internet privacy, public health and workers’ rights.
Check back for updates on this developing story.