Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, Associated Press
TOKYO — The United States and Japan moved Thursday to modernize and expand their defense alliance to counter new 21st century challenges including the continuing threat from nuclear-armed North Korea and potential aggression from China over disputed territory.
Revamping the guidelines of their defense partnership for the first time in 16 years, the allies agreed to position a second early-warning radar in Japan within the next year to help protect against North Korea. And by next spring, they will deploy new long-range surveillance drones to help monitor disputed islands in the East China Sea, a move that may well raise tensions with Beijing.
The foreign and defense ministers of the two countries also, for the first time, put a price on what Japan will contribute to the relocation of Marines out of Okinawa to Guam and other locations in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan will pay up to $3.1 billion of the move, which includes development of new facilities in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and afterward laid out the details of the session. The talks, ahead of President Barack Obama's visits to Indonesia and Brunei next week, were aimed at modernizing the American-Japanese alliance that both sides maintain is a cornerstone of peace and stability in North Asia.
"Japan is changing and so is its neighborhood," Kerry told reporters at a press conference after the meeting. "So we're coming together now to modernize our deep cooperation, through both our military alliances and our diplomatic partnerships, and that is so we can better prevent and respond to the ever-changing threats of the 21st century."
The deep neighborhood divisions were underscored, even as the meeting went on, when a new naval exercise between the U.S., Japan and South Korea scheduled for next week was disclosed, provoking a swift response from North Korea. In a statement, the National Peace Committee of Korea condemned the exercise, which will include the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and its strike group, as reckless saber-rattling.
The new X-band radar system, in fact, is designed to protect the region against the North Korean threat, boosting Japan's ability to track and intercept missiles from across the Sea of Japan. Officials have stressed it is not directed at China. Kerry acknowledged the threat from Pyongyang, but also said the U.S. was willing to sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea if it gives up its nuclear weapons and complies with international demands.
The drones, meanwhile, are designed in part to help step up surveillance around the Senkaku islands, a source of heated debate between Japan and China. Under the plan, two or three will fly out of a U.S. base. While the U.S. has operated unmanned aircraft over Japan in the past, for example during the 2011 tsunami, this would be the first time that drones would be based in Japan.
More broadly, the documents agreed to on Thursday contain no direct mention of the Senkakus, easily one of the most contentious issues affecting security in the Pacific. Despite that, the territorial dispute over the remote, uninhabited islands was a prime topic during the meeting and of the statements by the leaders afterward.
Hagel said the U.S. reiterated that while Washington takes no side on the question of the islands' sovereignty, it recognizes Japan's administration of them and has responsibilities to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.
"We strongly oppose any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control," he said.
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