TOKYO: Japan got encouraging statements from U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis ahead of his planned Friday visit, his first visit to Asia since being appointed.
According to unnamed Japanese and U.S. government sources quoted by The Japan Times, the first was to reaffirm that the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, claimed by both Japan and China, fall under the protection of the U.S.-Japan security agreement, even though the U.S. does not officially recognize them as sovereign Japanese territory.
Successive American secretaries of state and former President Barack Obama have affirmed that they are subject to Article 5 of the agreement that covers territories governed by Japan.
The islands have long been a source of friction between Japan and China, which calls them the Diaoyu.
The second piece of good news, also according to unnamed sources at both governments who spoke to The Japan Times, is an understanding that Washington will not demand that Tokyo pay more for the stationing of American forces in Japan. Tokyo and Washington recently signed an agreement for the U.S. to pay $8 billion over the next five years.
The money pays for about three-fourths of the cost of maintaining the American bases in Japan. Most of it goes to paying the salary of the thousands of Japanese nationals who work to maintain the bases.
Tokyo had been nervously anticipating a U.S. demand that it pay more based on statements that President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail about forcing allies to pay more for their own defense.
For his part, Mattis will likely receive assurances from Japan that it is committed to pressing forward with the agreement to reduce the American presence on Okinawa, including the commitment to building a more modern air station against strong local opposition.
Mattis has described his visits this week to American allies South Korea and Japan as a “listening tour”. He was expected to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he arrives on Friday, and then he will confer with Japan’s Defense Minister Tonomi Inada.
Abe himself leaves Feb. 10 for a summit meeting with Trump in Washington, where is expected to seek reassurances that Japan can still count on its longstanding alliance with an increasingly inward- looking America.
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