US, Japan defence chiefs agree to strengthen alliance in call

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Newly appointed US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi agreed to strengthen the alliance between their two countries in a phone call early Sunday (Jan 24) Tokyo time, Japan’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.

In the first call between the two since Mr Austin’s confirmation on Friday, they agreed that Article 5 of the US-Japan security treaty, which obliges the US to respond to an attack on Japanese-administered territory, applies to East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

The defence chiefs also expressed opposition to efforts to undermine Japanese control of the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Government ships from Japan and China frequently chase one another around the area.

On North Korea, they agreed to cooperate on working toward the complete and verifiable abandonment of the country’s weapons of mass destruction, as well as ballistic missiles of all ranges.

Mr Austin expressed willingness to visit Japan as soon as possible, the ministry said.

While agreeing on the importance of US troops stationed in the Asian nation, Mr Kishi urged the US defence chief to cooperate in reducing the burden on local residents of hosting military bases. Pacifist Japan is reliant on the US for much of its security.

Mr Austin and Mr Kishi also agreed that a plan to move a US Marine base from the centre of a crowded city on the southern island of Okinawa to a more remote area was the only way of resolving the problems associated with the base, the ministry said. The plan is unpopular with islanders, most of whom want it moved off the island entirely.

The US official also spoke to South Korean counterpart Suh Wook by phone, according to South Korean defence ministry on Sunday.

Mr Austin called the US-South Korea alliance a “lynchpin” for “peace and stability” in North-east Asia, vowing to “further develop” the bilateral alliance.

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