News Column

Noda: Japan To Boost Asia-Pacific Defense

April 30, 2012

Tokyo will increase its Asia-Pacific military defense role, Japan's prime minister said before meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House Monday.

"Japan will promote ... enhancement of its defense posture in the area, including the Southwestern Islands, in coordination with the U.S. strategy of focusing on the Asia-Pacific region," Yoshihiko Noda told The Wall Street Journal, referring to islands between the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea over which China and Japan have clashed.

The islands include Okinawa, where Washington agreed Thursday to reduce the number of U.S. Marines by 9,000 and to begin returning land to Japan.

"We will enhance security and defense cooperation between Japan and the U.S.," Noda told the Journal in written answers to submitted questions.

A security and defense buildup by Japan would mark a significant shift for a country whose postwar pacifist constitution, also known as the "peace constitution," renounces the right to wage war and forbids the use of arms in international conflict, the Journal said.

For most of the postwar period Japan's military forces were confined to the Japanese islands and not permitted to be deployed abroad. But in recent years they have been engaged in international peacekeeping operations.

Obama was to meet with Noda in the Oval Office at 11:40 a.m. EDT, followed by a working lunch at 12:45 p.m. and a Rose Garden news conference at 2 p.m., the White House said Sunday night.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was to host a gala dinner for Noda at 7 p.m., the State Department said.

Noda, who took office in September, is the first Japanese prime minister to visit Washington for an official bilateral meeting since his Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009.

His meeting comes at a time of growing U.S. and Japanese concern over China's rising military power and North Korea's nuclear ambitions, analysts say.

In their plans for increased military cooperation, Washington and Tokyo were expected to develop the U.S.-controlled Pacific island of Guam as "a strategic hub" and to discuss building joint training facilities there and on nearby islands, which would establish for the first time a permanent Japanese military presence on U.S. territory, Noda said.

A possible location for the joint training facilities is the Northern Mariana Islands, he told the newspaper.

The U.S. bombers Enola Gay and the Bockscar -- which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, at the end of World War II -- took off from a Northern Mariana Islands airfield.

Japan's expanded military efforts in Asia "are not aimed at any particular country or region," Noda told the Journal.

But at the same time "we encourage China's responsible and constructive role on regional and global issues and its adherence to international norms of behavior," he said.

Japan's 2011 defense budget was the world's sixth largest and Asia's second largest after China's, at $59.3 billion, or 1 percent of gross domestic product, Stockholm International Peach Research Institute said in a report last month.

China's defense budget was estimated at $143 billion, or 2 percent of GDP, SIPRI said. The U.S. defense budget was $711 billion, or 4.7 percent of GDP.

The Noda-Obama agenda Monday was also expected to include such topics as regional trade agreements and strategies on North Korea and Afghanistan, the White House said.

A senior Obama administration official told reporters Friday a key goal of the meeting would be to "set out their common vision for the partnership and for the alliance throughout the 21st century."

The two leaders were also expected to discuss an ambitious but controversial multilateral Pacific Rim free-trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that seeks to eliminate tariffs among member nations.

Washington and Tokyo are negotiating to join the partnership, but the negotiations are politically tricky and Obama and Noda are unlikely to wade in deeply on the matter, preferring to offer "vague grand designs for the future," The Japan Times reported.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2012

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