For the first time in four years, the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and their U.S. counterparts reviewed "common strategic objectives" on June 21 and agreed on military cooperation and role-sharing.
The first meeting of its kind since the Democratic Party of Japan came into power, it served a certain purpose as an occasion for Tokyo and Washington to compare notes on various issues, especially the East Asia situation that has grown more complex.
A joint statement issued after the meeting warned of "challenges posed by the increasingly uncertain security environment" in East Asia due to China's emergence, and urged China to "adhere to international norms of behavior."
With regard to North Korea, the statement also spelled out a new common strategic objective, which is to "deter provocations by North Korea."
Another point that should be noted is that Tokyo and Washington are now calling for multilateral security cooperation with Australia, South Korea, India and others.
But the main purpose of the meeting was to mend and reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance that became shaky over the proposed relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, since the DPJ came to power.
Although the joint statement was titled "Toward a Deeper and Broader U.S.-Japan Alliance: Building on 50 Years of Partnership," we believe the partners were well aware of the need to stop the alliance from further deterioration.
While the successful Japan-U.S. cooperation in aiding survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11 helped advance the bilateral alliance, some of the new common strategic objectives the partners agreed on suggest that Tokyo bit the bullet in order to accommodate Washington's wishes.
On the thorny Futenma relocation issue, for instance, Tokyo agreed to spell out the construction of a facility in the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture even though there is still no prospect of building such a facility because of adamant local opposition. The agreement has not only reversed the clock to the days of the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, but is also certain to further deepen the rift between Tokyo and Okinawa.
The new agreement means Okinawa's demand for the relocation of U.S. military training facilities remains unanswered, and a dangerous military base is going to become a permanent fixture in a crowded residential zone.
With regard to the proposed transfer of U.S. carrier-based aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Tokyo agreed to consider Mageshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture as the site of the landing and takeoff training facility required by Washington. The locals are resisting this vehemently, and Tokyo has certainly created a new source of strife.
Moreover, on the matter of export to third countries of jointly-developed ballistic missile interceptors, Tokyo agreed to Washington's proposal without coming up with any clear guidelines of its own.
We have consistently called for serious discourse in the Diet concerning our country's three basic principles of arms export. We cannot possibly allow the new export agreement in the absence of any regulatory measure.
Japan is going to pay dearly for the result of the ministerial meeting in Washington. But Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has already announced his intention to resign, is in no shape to handle the situation. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is stepping down at the end of this month.
Given these irregular circumstances in which the ministerial agreement was hammered out, a fresh round of talks must be held to give the agreement any meaning and truly deepen the bilateral alliance.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 23