Strained relations between Japan and the United States will only benefit China and North Korea. Tokyo and Washington must show the strength of their alliance to the whole Asian region.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visited the United States and held separate talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel. They agreed that Japan and the United States will deal jointly with China without accepting the Chinese-claimed air defence identification zone over the East China Sea.
“We will deal calmly but resolutely with China’s attempts to change the status quo with force,” said Kishida. Kerry reiterated the US position that the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands, is covered by the Japan-US Security Treaty that stipulates the US obligation to defend Japan.
Washington expressed its disappointment over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine late last year, revealing its position to be different from Tokyo’s. At the first foreign ministerial meeting since then, however, it is significant that Kishida and Kerry clearly confirmed enhancement of the Japan-US alliance and coordination of their policies vis-a-vis China.
Building strong and stable relations between Japan and US President Barack Obama’s administration with its emphasis on Asia will greatly contribute to peace and prosperity in the whole Asian region. Japan should make Obama’s visit to Japan, scheduled for April, an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the Japan-US alliance to the rest of the international community.
Kishida and Kerry agreed that the cooperation among Japan, the US and South Korea is important to deal with North Korea’s nuclear ambition and other issues. Kishida indicated his intention to improve Japan-South Korea ties by accumulating successes in working-level, tangible cooperation between the two countries. It is not clear what North Korea will do next. Pyongyang has shown its emphasis on a willingness to participate in dialogue by agreeing with South Korea to allow reunions of families separated by the Korean War, while strongly opposing the US-South Korea military exercises scheduled late this month.
To urge Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Japan, the US and South Korea should not march to different drummers. Mutual efforts by both Japan and South Korea are indispensable to repair their bilateral relations, which have become ice-cold due to disputes over the Takeshima islands and the issue of the so-called comfort women.
The Japanese and US foreign ministers also agreed to proceed steadily with the transfer of functions of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in Okinawa prefecture, and to start negotiations on a new bilateral treaty to allow environmental field studies at US bases in Japan that are scheduled to be returned to the Japanese government.
The envisaged new treaty is expected to smooth the way for the planned return of US bases in Japan.
We hope both governments will reach a conclusion as soon as possible to make stationing of US forces in Japan, a foundation of their deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region, sustainable.
Kishida and Kerry also agreed to accelerate bilateral talks in an effort to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact as soon as possible. The negotiations on the trade agreement are now deadlocked.
Tokyo and Washington have differing opinions over whether to abolish tariffs on five Japanese farm products. It may be time for the United States to review its commitment to a hard-line policy and demonstrate some flexibility from a common strategic viewpoint shared by Japan and the United States to create a new free trade system in the Asia-Pacific region.