US Backs Japan Alliance “100%”

US Defense Secretary James Mattis makes first foreign trip to key allies South Korea and Japan to reaffirm military alliance
James Mattis (L) and Shinzo Abe meet in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 3James Mattis (L) and Shinzo Abe meet in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 3

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Friday the United States stands 100% with Japan on a visit meant to confirm the importance of the countries’ security alliance.

“We stand firmly, 100%, shoulder-to-shoulder with you and (the) Japanese people,” Mattis told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after arriving on his first visit since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, AFP reported.

“I wanted to make certain that Article Five of our mutual defense treaty is understood to be as real to us today as it was a year ago, five years ago and it will be a year and 10 years from now,” he added in remarks at the start of their meeting.

Article five of the security treaty commits each country to repel any attacks on each other in Japan or territories it administers.

Mattis arrived from South Korea and his visit marks the first overseas trip of any senior official from US President Donald Trump’s administration, who suggested while campaigning that America’s longstanding role in Northeast Asia could change.

On the campaign trail, Trump raised the possibility of Japan and South Korea arming themselves with nuclear weapons, and accused Seoul and Tokyo of not paying their fair share for US troops stationed in their countries.

Some 47,000 US troops are stationed in Japan and another 28,500 in South Korea.

Abe, who is set to hold a summit with Trump next week in the US, also stressed the importance of the alliance.

“I am convinced, together with you and President Trump, we will be able to demonstrate the unwavering alliance between Japan and the United States both to the public inside Japan as well as outside Japan,” Abe said.

Abe has repeatedly argued that Japan bears an appropriate share of the costs of the alliance, which he stresses benefits the United States, Japan and the broader region.

  N. Korea Nuclear Threat

Before leaving South Korea, Mattis said that any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger an “effective and overwhelming” response.

During the visit to South Korea, Mattis said Pyongyang was continuing to “engage in threatening rhetoric and behavior”.

“Any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming,” Mattis told reporters ahead of a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo.

He was in Seoul to “underscore America’s priority commitment to US-Korea bilateral alliance” and make clear the administration’s “full commitment to defending South Korea’s democracy”, he said.

North Korea carried out two atomic tests and a series of missile launches last year, and casts a heavy security shadow over the region.

On Thursday Mattis and South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn agreed to push through with the deployment of a US missile defense system strongly opposed by China.

Beijing fears that the missile defense system will undermine its own ballistic capabilities, weakening its nuclear deterrent. It has repeatedly condemned the move as destabilizing regional security, and imposed measures seen as economic retaliation in South Korea.

The dispute makes it harder to convince Beijing—the North’s most important diplomatic protector and main source of aid and trade—to act against its neighbor, analysts say.

Mattis’ tour comes as relations between the US and countries such as Mexico and Australia get off to a rocky start.

The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that Trump ripped into his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull during a call last week, with the US president apparently fuming at a refugee accord he called “dumb” and cutting the conversation short.

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