Japan is seeking to boost its security alliance with the U.S. in the midst of a territorial dispute with China that the Obama administration is calling on both sides to defuse.
“The situation in East Asia is not just about the Korean Peninsula, but there is also the problem of China’s advance into maritime activities,” Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto told reporters today in Tokyo. “Taking into account the qualitative changes in security risks, we have decided to begin looking at how to improve the alliance.”
Vice Defense Minister Akihisa Nagashima is traveling to Washington to discuss ties following President Barack Obama’s re-election this week. Talks will include last month’s alleged assault on a Japanese woman by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa as well as the deployment of the V-22 Osprey aircraft to the island over the objections of local residents, Morimoto said.
The spat over islands in the East China Sea has shaken a $340 billion trade relationship and hurt Chinese sales of Japanese carmakers such as Nissan Motor Co. (7201) The two sides challenged each other’s claims to the chain, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, at an Asian summit these week, undercutting diplomatic talks aimed at defusing tension.
Japan is the biggest U.S. ally in Asia and pays about 188 billion yen ($2.4 billion) a year to host 38,000 American military personnel and their dependents as part of a 52-year security treaty. More than 75 percent of the bases are on Okinawa, about 950 miles (1,530 kilometers) south of Tokyo, creating tensions over pollution, noise and crime.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision to purchase the islands from a private owner in September prompted violent demonstrations in China. Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s top seller of vehicles in China, on Nov. 6 cut its full-year net income forecast 20 percent after the backlash hurt sales.
China has increased its dispatches of patrols to the area around the islands, which are rich in fish, oil and natural gas. Chinese vessels have been in or near waters administered by Japan for 21 straight days, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.
Chinese and Japanese officials this week concluded two days of talks on the matter in at least the third diplomatic engagement in the past month. China reiterated that it “won’t cede even half a step on its sovereignty” over the chain, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Nov. 5 in Beijing.
The dispute has the potential to spin out of control into a military face-off, according to a confidential report submitted last week to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a delegation of former U.S. officials. The U.S. has called on the two sides to resolve the matter, saying that while it takes no position on sovereignty, the islands fall under the U.S.-Japan mutual treaty.
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