HANOI – Japanese and U.S. defense chiefs agreed in their talks Monday that their countries will jointly respond in line with a bilateral security pact toward stability in areas in the East China Sea covering the Senkaku Islands that came into the spotlight in disputes between Japan and China, according to Japanese officials.
The officials said Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates also affirmed the need for strengthening collaboration with countries in the region over the situation in the East China Sea.
Kitazawa reaffirmed with Gates the policy to implement an accord reached in May to transfer the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station within Okinawa and told him of the Japanese Defense Ministry’s proactive stance toward reviewing the country’s policy of banning arms exports, the officials said.
Kitazawa, an advocate of reviewing the policy, said earlier that the arms export ban has prevented Japan’s defense industry from participating in joint international technological development, potentially putting it at a disadvantage in the race for defense business.
During their talks, Kitazawa told Gates that Japan is grateful the United States has stated that the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are covered by the Japan-U.S. security pact, the officials said.
Kitazawa was referring to Sept. 23 remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who told Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara that the disputed isles administered by Japan, but claimed by China, are subject to Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty, which allows for Washington to retaliate against a military strike on Japanese territory.
Gates indicated that the United States and Japan will work together in this area, the officials said.
Touching on China’s growing military presence in waters around Japan and the Pacific, Gates also noted the importance for the two countries to strengthen collaboration with countries in the region, according to the officials.
He may have been referring to Vietnam and other countries which are increasingly getting anxious about China over territorial disputes concerning the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
On the Futenma issue, Kitazawa was quoted as saying, “It’s important to win the understanding of Okinawan people and reduce burdens on them to realize the relocation.” Gates stressed the need to steadily implement the relocation and the transfer of Marines to Guam, the officials said.
Bilateral ties between Japan and China had chilled following Sept. 7 collisions between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats near the disputed islands.
Kitazawa and Gates met on the sidelines of a gathering of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Vietnamese capital.