Hagel Discusses U.S.-Japan Defense Relations in Interview

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WASHINGTON, April 5, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discussed the defense relationship between the United States and Japan, the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, U.S. and partner-nation efforts to promote peace and stability in the region, and other issues during his question-and-answer interview with The Nikkei newspaper.

An article written from that interview was published on Nikkei’s website early today.

The text of the interview follows:

NIKKEI: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been seeking to ease the ban on Japan's ability to engage in collective defense while the Japanese and the United States governments plan to review defense cooperation guidelines by the end of this year. The security environment in Northeast Asia continues to present challenges, such as China's military build-up and North Korea's nuclear development program. How should the US-Japan alliance and cooperation between US forces and Japan's Self Defense Forces address these challenges? What roles and capabilities do you expect from Japan?

SECRETARY HAGEL: One of the messages I want to convey on my fourth visit to Asia is that the security relationships the United States enjoys in this region have been essential to economic growth and stability for the last 60 years. The U.S.-Japan Alliance and mutual defense treaty has been the cornerstone for tremendous progress. When Secretary of State John Kerry and I visited Tokyo in October, we announced alongside our counterparts at the “2+2” meeting that the United States and Japan are working to meet the regional and global challenges of the 21st century by upgrading the capability of the Alliance. We will do that by revising the bilateral defense guidelines, expanding security and defense cooperation in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, and implementing the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

The United States recognizes Japan’s long-standing commitment to regional and global peace and stability and we welcome Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role in the Alliance, including by reexamining the interpretation of its Constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense. We also support expanding the role of the Japan Self Defense Forces within the framework of the Alliance, investing in cutting-edge capabilities, improving interoperability, modernizing force structure, and adapting Alliance roles and missions to meet contemporary and future security realities. Because of these enhancements, I believe that the U.S. and Japan can and ultimately will do more together to continue to advance prosperity and security in the region and around the world.

NIKKEI: With the policy of rebalancing to Asia-Pacific, what does the United States expect of Japan, especially Japan's Self Defense Forces?

SECRETARY HAGEL: Our strong relationship with Japan remains vital to the rebalance. And since the rebalance is all about improving capabilities and cooperation, I think the ongoing review of the bilateral defense guidelines will prove enormously helpful as we seek to identify areas where the Japan Self Defense Forces can expand their role within the Alliance. I expect our conversations on this visit to include dialogue in the areas of emerging domains like space and cyberspace. And I want to take the opportunity to once again commend the Japanese Self Defense Forces for their participation in Humanitarian Assistance Relief missions in South East Asia over the past year. They have made a real difference in the lives and livelihoods of many people.

NIKKEI: Recent moves by China, including its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) as well as provocative actions near Senkaku Islands, have increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation. How would the US respond in the case of such a contingency? Some people view China's behavior similar to Russia's annexation of Crimea; do you agree?

SECRETARY HAGEL: China’s ADIZ announcement was a provocative, unilateral action that raised tensions in one of the world’s most geopolitically sensitive areas, including territory administered by Japan. It clearly increases the risk of a dangerous miscalculation or accident that could escalate quickly and dangerously. We are urging all involved parties to exercise restraint, while encouraging China to work with Japan and South Korea to establish confidence-building measures, including emergency communications channels, to reduce the risk of accidents and miscalculation.

NIKKEI: Some members of Congress argue that the Obama administration's weak response to China has emboldened Beijing and led to its provocative actions in the East and South China Seas. What do you think of such criticism?

SECRETARY HAGEL: As a former member of the United States Congress I know there are always going to be different views on the key challenges facing our nation. But I reject the notion that we’ve been weak on China, or on any other aspect of our relationships in the region.

First, this administration has been clear and it has been firm: the Senkakus are administered by Japan and fall within the scope of Article V of the U.S.-Japan security treaty.

Second, we oppose any act by any nation to intimidate or coerce others with respect to territorial claims. We’ve made that assertion publicly and privately to the Chinese, and we will continue to do so.

We will remain the Pacific power we have always been for so many years. We will uphold our security commitments in the region. And we will continue to work hard to help underpin the stability and the prosperity for which the people of the Asia-Pacific -- including American citizens -- have labored so hard to produce.

China and Japan are the world’s second- and third-largest economies and have a shared interest in a stable environment to facilitate economic prosperity. Neither of these two important countries, nor the global economy, can afford confrontation and crisis and the United States will continue to encourage both nations to work to find a peaceful resolution to these disputes.

NIKKEI: At the trilateral summit on March 25th, President Obama, Prime Minister Abe and South Korean President Park agreed on further cooperation in the form of joint military training exercises and missile defense. Would you propose a minister-level meeting to discuss the details of the security cooperation among the three countries? Do you have any concerns regarding South Korea's reluctance to defense cooperation with Japan? Are you concerned that the tension between Japan and South Korea could affect US policy and strategy towards Asia?

SECRETARY HAGEL: The United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Japan regularly meet to discuss defense and security cooperation issues. Last year we met together on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and I look forward to doing so again this June. Later this month, the Pentagon will host a Defense Trilateral Talks (DTT) Plenary session at the Deputy Minister-Director General-Assistant Secretary Levelr level to discuss cooperation, dialogue, and transparency between two of our staunchest Allies, Japan and the ROK. Enhancing trilateral cooperation is critical to preserving regional peace and stability - that is a message I have brought to leaders in both Tokyo and Seoul. I will continue to do so.

NIKKEI: It has been nearly twenty years since the United States and Japanese governments reached an agreement to return the Futenma Air Station. Are you frustrated with the delay in implementing the Futenma relocation plan? If the Japanese government further fails to settle the dispute over the relocation plan, do you think that the permanent presence of Futenma becomes inevitable?

SECRETARY HAGEL: I very much welcome the approval of the landfill permit request in December, 2013 that will allow construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) to proceed. I want to take this opportunity once again to thank Prime Minister Abe and Defense Minister Onodera for their assistance in achieving this breakthrough. It is a key milestone that comes after many years of hard work between the United States and Japan – and I am grateful we have taken this significant step together. It brings us closer to realizing the vision of the 2006 Realignment Roadmap and toward achieving a sustainable U.S. military presence with less impact on the Okinawan people.

In our April 2012 “2+2 Joint Statement”, the United States and Japan reconfirmed the view that the current FRF plan at Camp Schwab-Henoko Bay remains the only viable alternative to the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. This effort is critical to our ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and our ability to maintain a well-distributed and politically sustainable force throughout Asia. Along with the relocation of Marines to Guam and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, moving forward with the relocation of MCAS Futenma will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of significant land south of Kadena Air Base while sustaining U.S. military capabilities vital to the peace and security of the region.

We are committed to working with Japan to realize the expeditious construction of the FRF and realignment of U.S. forces. We continuously explore new ways to reduce the impact of U.S. facilities on Okinawa and are committed to being a good neighbor.

A link to the article is available here.