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Japan, U.S. vow to boost alliance to deter N. Korea

Japan and the United States on Thursday pledged to step up
defense cooperation and boost alliance capabilities as a way of
deterring and better responding to the increased threat posed by
Pyongyang's weapons programs.

They also agreed to continue to employ diplomatic and economic
pressure, in cooperation with other nations, to "convince North Korea
to end its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile program," U.S.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a joint news conference
after a meeting involving the foreign and defense ministers of the
two allies.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera thanked the United
States for providing Japan with extended deterrence, backed by the
full range of its nuclear and conventional defense capabilities, and
deploying more military assets to the Asia-Pacific region, at a time
when North Korea threatens to fire ballistic missiles into waters off
the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that in the event of a
North Korean missile launch toward Guam or other U.S. territory, or
Japan or South Korea, "We would take immediate specific actions to
take (the missile) down."

In return, Onodera said, "I would like to make efforts to
enhance the defense capability and defense posture of Japan."

"We will continue to promote cooperation in ballistic missile
defense, including acquisition of new assets and enhanced capability
in new domains such as space and cyberspace," he said. "Through this,
we intend to strengthen further our joint responsive posture."

A joint statement issued after the meeting, which also involved
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, said, "The United States remains
committed to deploying its most advanced capabilities to Japan," and
that "Japan intends to expand its role in the alliance and augment
its defense capabilities."

The four ministers called on the international community to
"comprehensively and thoroughly implement" U.N. Security Council
sanctions on North Korea so as to compel it to change course,
according to the statement.

The ministers singled out China -- which some call an economic
enabler of North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile
development programs -- as needing to take "decisive measures" in
regard to its defiant neighbor, prodding Beijing to tighten the
economic screws on Pyongyang.

"We agreed to further strengthen effective pressure on North
Korea toward its denuclearization," Kono said. "We will urge China to
take specific measures to make North Korea change its behavior."

China accounts for about 90 percent of the North's trade and is
a major supplier of oil to the country.

Referring to trilateral security cooperation with South Korea,
the joint statement stressed the need to enhance information-sharing
and expand three-way exercises including missile warning,
anti-submarine warfare and maritime interdiction operations.

As for China's attempts to challenge Japan's administration of
the Senkaku Islands, the ministers reconfirmed that Article 5 of the
Japan-U.S. security treaty applies to the East China Sea islets,
meaning that Washington will defend Tokyo in the event of conflict
over the islands.

"The United States will honor our treaty agreements with Japan
without reservation whether in times of peace or in the face of
conflict," Tillerson said.

The ministers expressed veiled criticism of China's
militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea,
with Tillerson saying Tokyo and Washington "oppose militarization
activity in the South China Sea."

"Maritime disputes should be settled peacefully and maintain the
freedom of navigation in accordance with the United Nations
Conventions on the Law of the Sea," he said.

China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia,
the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea. Beijing
has refused to comply with last year's international tribunal ruling
that invalidated the country's claims across almost the entire sea.

Without mentioning Beijing's attempts to force a shift in the
contested waterway, the ministers affirmed the two countries'
intention to further promote defense equipment and technology
transfers to Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines and
Vietnam in maritime security and other areas.

In this respect, Kono announced Japan will provide a total of
$500 million in aid for coastal states in the Indo-Pacific in the
three years to 2019 to help them boost their surveillance and
law-enforcement capabilities.

The ministers also vowed to advance trilateral and multilateral
security cooperation with other partners in the Asia-Pacific region
-- notably South Korea, Australia, India and Southeast Asian
countries -- with the U.S. committing to maintain a strong presence
in the region.

On the Japan-U.S. plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station
Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, they underscored
that the current plan -- which draws strong opposition from locals --
is "the only solution" for removing the dangers posed by the air
station without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S.

"The ministers reaffirmed the two governments' unwavering
commitment to the plan and underscored their strong determination to
achieve its completion as soon as possible and the long-desired
return of (the site of) MCAS Futenma to Japan," the statement said.
(Aug. 17)

(From L) Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis shakes hands prior to their meeting in Washington on Aug. 17, 2017. They pledged to step up defense cooperation and boost alliance capabilities as a way of deterring and better responding to the increased threat posed by Pyongyang's weapons programs. (Pool photo)