The governments of Japan and the United States have agreed to consider revising their bilateral defense cooperation guidelines, mainly to deal with a resurgent China, and determining what roles the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and the U.S. military will play in the dispute.
Senior Vice Defense Minister Akihisa Nagashima made the announcement on Nov. 9 following meetings in Washington with Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.
“We agreed that we will discuss it to strengthen our alliance,” Nagashima told reporters of the possible revision. “As the direction the two countries want to go in are the same, I felt that Japan obtained strong support.”
The two countries will start working-level talks in early December between their defense and foreign affairs officials.
The bilateral defense guidelines stipulate the roles shouldered by the SDF and U.S. forces in the event of Japan being attacked by a third country. The guidelines were worked out in 1978 to prepare for possible invasion of Japan by forces of the then Soviet Union.
The 1997 revision added a stipulation that Japan and the United States cooperate when an emergency occurs in Japan or its surrounding areas. The stipulation was made on the assumption that response would be needed to deal with tensions on the Korean Peninsula involving North Korea.
If the revision is agreed upon, it will mark the first time since the 1997 revision that the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation have been updated.
In the revision talks, Japan and the United States will determine the coordination of the SDF and the U.S. military amid deteriorating Japan-China relations resulting from the dispute over the Senkaku Islands. The Japanese government’s nationalization of the Senkakus in September has worsened relations between Japan and China.
Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto acknowledged that Japan and the United States are considering revising their bilateral defense cooperation guidelines to deal with an increasingly belligerent China.
“A variety of complications, which were not expected at the time of the 1997 revision, have now become problems. In East Asia, there are not only problems on the Korean Peninsula but also those coming from the expansion of China’s maritime activities,” Morimoto said.
Morimoto expressed his belief that once the guidelines are revised again, Japan should quickly enact new laws or revise current laws so that the guidelines take effect.
“It is hoped that political consensus is made (in Japan) to make new domestic laws (or revise the current laws),” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who was re-elected on Nov. 6, is expressing a desire to continue placing importance on the Asia-Pacific region.
To deal with China’s expanding maritime activities in the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Japan expects a major issue of discussion in the revision talks will be how the SDF and U.S. forces will defend the small Japanese islands located between Kyushu island and Taiwan. Those islands, called Nansei Shoto (southwestern islands), include the Senkakus.
What the Japanese government places importance on in Japan-U.S. cooperation is in the fields of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
In a joint drill being held by the SDF and the U.S. forces from Nov. 5 to Nov. 16, the two militaries are conducting a simulation of taking back remote islands that have been captured by invading forces.
“Through such a drill, we can find what we have to fix,” a high-ranking Japanese Defense Ministry official said.
Some government officials believe that the Japan-U.S. talks for revising bilateral defense guidelines could make China more hostile toward Japan.
Other officials are asserting that the Japanese government should also discuss revising the exercise of the rights for collective self-defense to enable Japan to send SDF troops overseas to join U.S. forces in military operations, which is currently banned under the Japanese government’s interpretation of the Constitution.
Amid the spreading belief that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is likely to lose in the next Lower House election and become an opposition party, however, it could be difficult to obtain support in the near future for revising the bilateral guidelines.
“The United States is concerned that if the government changes in Japan, agreements could be nullified. If the Japanese government does not hold strong political power, it will be impossible to revise the guidelines again,” said a high-ranking official of the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
However, one of the top three officials of the Japanese Defense Ministry, who is in charge of parliamentary affairs, said, “Even if the Liberal Democratic Party takes the reins of government (after the next Lower House election), it will take over the revision (from the DPJ-led government), thinking that it is the only avenue.”
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