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Japan, U.S. defense chiefs meet for talks to beef up alliance

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and her U.S. counterpart
Jim Mattis met Saturday in Tokyo to discuss their cooperation in
dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats as well as
China's maritime assertiveness.

The talks followed a series of meetings Friday in Tokyo, during
which the Pentagon chief reassured Japan that the United States
remains fully committed to the defense of its Asian ally under the
new administration of President Donald Trump.

Mattis is likely to reiterate similar reassurances to Inada
during their meeting. The two may also exchange views over Japan's
missile shield system, according to Japanese government officials.

The Japanese Defense Ministry is currently studying whether to
introduce in the country an advanced U.S. antiballistic missile
defense system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense to
better cope with North Korea's missile threats.

The THAAD system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles
flying at high altitudes in and outside the atmosphere, providing a
longer-range defense than the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system
already deployed by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Installation
costs are believed to reach hundreds of billions of yen.

The Japanese government believes Pyongyang's nuclear and missile
capabilities have reached "a new level of threat." North Korea
conducted two nuclear tests and test-fired more than 20 ballistic
missiles last year, while its leader Kim Jong Un said in his New
Year's address that his country is in the final stage of preparing to
test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Inada and Mattis plan to hold a joint press conference after
their meeting.

Attention is growing on whether Mattis will refer to Japan's
share of the cost of deploying U.S. troops in the country, which
Trump has criticized during his presidential campaign as not enough.

He did not raise the issue when he met Japanese Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida a day before, a
Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan's so-called host-nation support covers costs for base
workers, utilities and other items and totals nearly 200 billion yen
($1.8 billion) annually. Tokyo has maintained that the Japan-U.S.
alliance is a mechanism that provides benefits to both countries, and
that the costs are being "appropriately" shared.

Under the Japan-U.S. security treaty, around 54,000 U.S. troops
are stationed in Japan, enabling the United States to respond rapidly
to contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Mattis arrived in Japan on Friday as part of his first overseas
trip as the Pentagon chief, which also took him to South Korea,
another key U.S. ally.

The trip came ahead of the Feb. 10 summit meeting between Abe
and Trump in Washington. Tokyo is apparently gauging how Trump's
"America First" agenda will affect the bilateral alliance, while it
continues to be baffled by the businessman-turned-president's
position on trade and currency issues. (Feb. 4)

Japan, U.S. defense chiefs show unity over S. China Sea situation

The Japanese and U.S. defense chiefs on Saturday took a united
stand against security challenges in the region, agreeing to beef up
their bilateral alliance and step up involvement in the situation in
the South China Sea where China's assertiveness is seen as a concern.

The meeting was the latest in a series of talks that involved
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who was the first member of the
Cabinet of U.S. President Donald Trump to visit Japan.

Mattis was seen as trying to address any possible concerns Japan
may have about the Trump administration, reaffirming fully the U.S.
commitment to the defense of Japan and even hailing at a press
conference Saturday that Japan's cost-sharing burden for hosting U.S.
forces is "a model" for other nations to follow.

Whether the United States will demand an increase in financial
contributions has been a concern for Japan as Trump demanded during
his presidential campaign that Japan, South Korea and other U.S.
allies pay a larger proportion of the costs of U.S. troops deployed
in these countries -- or else defend themselves.

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who attended the press
conference with Mattis after their talks, said the issue was not
discussed. Mattis said he thought Japan was "on the right track" as
he watched the defense budget grow under Japanese Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's government amid the worsening security situation.

The two agreed during their talks to beef up the deterrence
power of the alliance and to closely cooperate to deal with the
security challenges, which Mattis said range "from the threat of
nuclear and missile provocations by North Korea to increasingly
confrontational behavior by China in the East and South China seas."

"The U.S.-Japan alliance is critical for ensuring that this
region remains safe and secure, not just now but for years to come,"
Mattis said at the press conference, while assuring that "President
Trump's administration places a higher priority on this region and
specifically on long-term allies like Japan."

As he did in meetings on Friday with Abe and Japanese Foreign
Minister Fumio Kishida, Mattis promised that the U.S. defense
commitment extends to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the
East China Sea, which China claims and calls Diaoyu.

Turning to the situation in the South China Sea, where China is
stirring concerns through its island construction and military
buildup in disputed areas, Inada offered her support for a U.S.
freedom of navigation operation in the waters and said she agreed
with Mattis on the need to step up their involvement there.

The U.S. defense secretary said that "freedom of navigation is
the absolute" and indicated that the operation will continue. At the
same time, he added "At this time, we do not see any need for
dramatic military moves at all."

Mattis came to Japan as part of his first overseas trip as the
Pentagon chief, which also took him to South Korea, another key U.S.
ally. Mattis and Inada agreed to also step up trilateral defense
cooperation involving South Korea.

The trip came ahead of the Feb. 10 summit meeting between Abe
and Trump in Washington. Tokyo is apparently gauging how Trump's
"America First" agenda will affect the bilateral alliance, while it
has been baffled by his position on trade and currency issues.

Under the Japan-U.S. security treaty, around 54,000 U.S. troops
are stationed in Japan, enabling the United States to respond rapidly
to contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan's so-called host-nation support covers costs for base
workers, utilities and other items and totals nearly 200 billion yen
($1.8 billion) annually. Tokyo has maintained that the Japan-U.S.
alliance is a mechanism that provides benefits to both countries, and
that the costs are being "appropriately" shared. (Feb. 4)


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks at a joint press
conference with his Japanese counterpart Tomomi Inada
at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on Feb. 4, 2017.
The defense chiefs agreed to continue to strengthen the
Japan-U.S. alliance as they shared concerns over North
Korea's nuclear and missile threats and China's maritime
assertiveness.