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US 'will ensure Japan's security': Hagel

Publication Date : 06-04-2014


US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is here on a visit to assure Japanese leaders that the United States is committed to ensuring Japan's security.

In talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Hagel, who arrived yesterday morning, said the aim of his two-day trip was to reassure US allies of Washington's continued commitment "to our partners and our friends in this region".

Welcoming the Pentagon chief, Abe said: "With the security environment in Asia getting more severe, we hope your visit will tell the world that the strong Japan-US alliance remains unchanged."

Hagel's visit, his fourth to the region in the past year, comes against the backdrop of North Korea's nuclear and missile development programme and China's growing maritime presence.

Explaining his government's efforts to boost the security alliance, Abe said: "So that the alliance will function effectively, we are preparing the legal basis that will lead to regional peace and stability." The latter is a reference to his plan to overturn a long-held constitutional interpretation to allow Japan to take part in collective self-defence with a third country.

Earlier, in a written interview with the influential Nikkei business daily published yesterday, Hagel said: "We welcome Japan's efforts to play a more proactive role in the alliance, including by re-examining the interpretation of its Constitution relating to the right of collective self-defence."

His visit comes just after the Abe Cabinet had endorsed new guidelines to permit the export of defence equipment - another move that will help to enhance the alliance by boosting cooperation in research and development of military technology.

In the Nikkei interview, Hagel rejected suggestions that the Obama administration's weakness has emboldened China.

Touching on the disputed Senkaku islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu and also claim, he noted that the islands are "administered by Japan" and that under the US-Japan security treaty, Washington is obliged to go to Japan's help if the territory comes under attack. The US, he said, opposes "any act by any nation to intimidate or coerce others with respect to territorial claims".

"We've made that assertion publicly and privately to the Chinese, and we will continue to do so."

China's sudden announcement of an air defence zone late last year and its attempt to enforce controversial new fishing rules have also raised the ire of Japan and other countries in this region

Hagel said neither Japan nor China could afford a confrontation. "The US will continue to encourage both nations to work to find a peaceful resolution to these disputes," he told the Nikkei.

In a show of solidarity with Japan, Washington decided not to send a warship to an international fleet review organised by the Chinese later this month after it was discovered that Japan was not invited.

Today, Hagel is due to meet his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera, and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida for talks on regional security issues.

The meetings will help lay the groundwork for US President Barack Obama's visit here later this month.

Hagel's trip here follows a three-day meeting in Hawaii with Asean defence ministers. After Tokyo, he heads to China for talks to expand military cooperation, and later to Mongolia.


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