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U.S.-Japan Relations Remain Strong, Official Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2010 – U.S. military relations with Japan remain strong despite disagreements over basing and other aspects of the bilateral security agreement, the Pentagon’s head of East Asian relations said here yesterday.

The strength of U.S.-Japan security relations can be seen in the totality of its 50-year relationship and progress moving forward, Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Japan’s desire to relocate U.S. Marines on Okinawa, the government’s recent halt of refueling operations in the Indian Ocean and other disagreements do not match deeper challenges the alliance faced in years past and have not prevented the two countries from moving forward, Schiffer said in prepared testimony to the committee.

Public support for the alliance is high in both countries, and bilateral relations are strong on nuclear nonproliferation and missile defense, reconstruction in Afghanistan and stability in Pakistan, counter-piracy efforts and preserving open sea lines of communication, Schiffer said.

The Japanese government “has made clear its commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance, as well as to principles of transparency and accountability in a vibrant democracy,” he said. “By working patiently and persistently through areas of disagreement, we will ensure the continued expansion and strengthening of our relationship, even as core commitments remain unshaken.”

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who was elected in September, has said he will resolve by May the years-long debate about relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Schiffer said. He reiterated the U.S. position that the base should stay on Okinawa.

“The only readily deployable U.S. ground forces between Hawaii and India are the U.S. Marines located on Okinawa,” Schiffer said. The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit has a broader role than responding to military contingencies in the area, he said, noting that they led the U.S. effort to respond to natural disasters in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Burma.

At the same time, existing U.S.-Japanese agreements call for more joint training between the two militaries on Okinawa and Guam, and for co-location of air and missile defense commands at Yokota Air Base and the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force with a transformed U.S. Army command and control structure, Schiffer said.

“Forces who have established ingrained patterns of cooperation, deep friendships, and a better understanding of each other’s plans and decision-making processes will be better equipped to respond with speed and efficiency in a crisis situation,” he said.

Schiffer noted other progress, most importantly strengthened ties in the trilateral relationship among the United States, Japan and South Korea. He also cited Japan’s contribution of four Aegis destroyers for ballistic-missile defense for the region, its collaboration with the United States on the land-based missile-defense system planned for Europe, and its assistance with humanitarian relief to Haiti and other areas.

Moving forward, Schiffer said, the United States hopes Japan will provide more funding for its defense, relax restrictions on its military operations, and continue its support in broader Asia and in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Much more will be required of Japan and our alliance in the coming months and years,” he said. “I am confident that Japan will continue to step up and find ways to do more. It will do so not because the United States asks it to, but rather because Japan has interests at stake, responsibilities to bear, and the capacity to make a difference.”

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Michael Schiffer

Related Sites:
State Department Background Note on Japan

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