21:28 GMT06 June 2020
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    The United States and Japan struck a bargain to enhance bilateral military cooperation in Asia, amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea region and North Korea’s provocative ballistic missile program.

    Two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors are launched during a successful intercept test.
    © REUTERS / U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout
    The agreement was voiced as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with the head of the US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, in Tokyo on Tuesday, the Japan Times reported.

    During the meeting, Abe praised last year’s revision of Tokyo’s cooperation agreement with Washington and changes in Japanese military doctrine, stressing that those “encouraging” moves facilitated a deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear missile experiments.

    The changes in the Japanese military doctrine were made last year, and allow for the country’s Self-Defense Forces to participate in foreign military operations, upon the request of an ally. The step caused a backlash among the Japanese public, with many protesting what they claim is a shift toward militarization.

    Prior to the changes, Tokyo adhered to a pacifist ideology secured by Article 9 of the country’s constitution. Adopted under US occupation in 1947, Article 9 allows Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to take part only in operations on their soil, stating that Japan must “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.”

    “I believe, and I know Adm. Kuwano believes, that the Japan-US alliance is the key to peace and stability in (the Asian region),” Harris said to Abe on Tuesday, referring to Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the SDF’s Joint Staff, with whom he met on the previous day.

    The meeting comes in the wake of a non-binding decision by the Hague on the disputed areas in the South China Sea. An international tribunal ruled that China’s claims on the most of the sea’s territories are without merit, in a case brought to the court by the Philippines in 2013.

    The gesture was taken by Tokyo as a glimpse of hope, as it has territorial disputes with Beijing as well. Both countries claim the rights on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

    Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015.
    © REUTERS / U.S. Navy/Handout
    Amid the dispute, relations between China and Japan have become tense. Recently, Tokyo expressed concerns over Chinese ships sailing the waters surrounding the Senkaku archipelago. Beijing, in turn, accused Japanese military of locking missiles on two of China’s Su-30 fighter jets during an overflight of the East China Sea.

    The United States and Japan, during Tuesday’s talks, also discussed the relocation of the US Marine Corps Futenma airbase in Okinawa to the island’s coast. Harris thanked Abe for his support of the facility’s relocation, which was met with protest on the island prefecture.


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    disputes, Admiral Harry Harris, Sindzo Abe, Senkaku Islands, United States, South China Sea, East China Sea, Japan, China
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