Shinzo Abe makes pledge on Japan’s defence to US deputy Pompeo

Prime minister’s vow follows meeting with US secretary of state

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to intensify his country’s defense against China and North Korea, after meeting the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is leading a US delegation.

Since winning a third term in September, Abe has been hinting at his intentions to renew an age-old policy of collective self-defense, a move long resisted by Japan’s powerful military.

Abe met Pompeo at his Tokyo residence on Monday, where he and Pompeo talked about trade, North Korea and Afghanistan, according to a senior Japanese foreign ministry official.

The pair also discussed boosting defense cooperation between Japan and the US in response to China’s rapid military build-up and North Korea’s alleged proliferation of nuclear and missile technology.

“On collective self-defense, you have heard the expression ‘if necessary’,” Abe told the US secretary of state. “I have decided that this will happen,” he said, according to the foreign ministry official.

The US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, confirmed to reporters later that Japan was considering collective self-defense. “We did talk about that at length,” she said.

Japan is concerned about China’s reported expansion of military bases in the East China Sea, its build-up of submarines in the Sea of Japan and its acquisition of advanced military technology such as advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as reports of a Chinese reconnaissance patrol off Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.

Abe last month met with Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, and agreed to allow the United States to send troops to Japan to train with their Japanese counterparts.

He said in a speech before parliament that Japan was willing to work with North Korea to develop peaceful coexistence in the region, but added that the country’s military would never be used for such ends.

Since becoming prime minister in December 2012, Abe has increasingly advocated the use of joint security forces for Japan’s defense. At the time of the US-Japan security treaty of 1952, there was a strict prohibition on Japan having forces stationed overseas, meaning that it was forced to get weapons and spare parts from America.

Since then, the US has intervened against a North Korean missile test that endangered Washington, and cancelled part of the military drills involving South Korea that Beijing viewed as provocation. In return, the US has sought Japanese support on various economic and trade issues.

Monday’s meeting was one of several that Pompeo will make in Japan during a six-day visit to Asia to review the status of the Korean peninsula peace process.

Japan is concerned about efforts to restart talks by a South Korean delegation headed by the former athletes and figure skaters’ Kim Ju-sik and Yun Sung-joo.

Japan made clear that they would only return to the table when North Korea took concrete action to end its nuclear program. Abe said in September that “progress in talks won’t be judged by the number of words said, but by the concrete steps to be taken”.

North Korea has again proposed the “permanent dismantlement” of its nuclear program, but the US has so far insisted it wants Pyongyang to give up its long-range missiles and dismantlement of the testing sites. The US has also said that US troops will not withdraw from the Korean peninsula while there are military threats from the North.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the two countries would discuss a US delegation’s visit to China, which would be chaired by Pompeo.

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“Our stance is consistent,” Lu said. “We insist that the process is not subject to any political pre-conditions.”

Japan’s next election will be held on 10 October 2019, when Abe will seek another three-year term as prime minister.

Abe is facing a possible challenge from the Democratic party, which has serious reservations about his planned measures to expand the military. In December 2016, the party’s leader, Genri Fukuyama, launched an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Abe as prime minister.

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