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Japan defense minister supports US in South China Sea

Japan Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani, middle, visits the USS Arizona Memorial, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, to lay a wreath in the Shrine Room of the memorial. Photo: AP

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on Tuesday expressed his support for the US Navy's sailing of a warship close to one of China's artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Nakatani told reporters after meeting Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, that the U.S. military was at the forefront of the international community's efforts to protect open, free and peaceful oceans in the South China Sea. He added he expressed Japan's support for U.S. actions to Harris.

"The international community will not allow the unilateral changing of the status quo by force, and our country believes the same," Nakatani said. "The U.S. believes the same, too, and we agreed on this point."

The U.S. Navy last month sailed a guided missile destroyer inside what China claims is a 12-mile territorial limit around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. The move was a challenge to what the U.S. considers Beijing's "excessive claim" of sovereignty in those waters.

He said Japan would continue to help countries in the region bolster their own maritime forces. Japan is giving 10 patrol ships to the Philippine coast guard.

"We have proactively participated in activities promoting the regional stability, including helping build the capacity of countries around the South China Sea and holding joint exercises between the U.S. military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces," Nakatani said.

The defense minister's visit to Hawaii to meet with senior U.S. military leaders was his first since Japan's parliament in September approved legislation loosening post-World War II constraints on its military.

The new law allows Tokyo's military to defend its allies even when the country isn't under attack. The law will enable Japan to work more closely with the U.S. and other nations.

The new law would also allow Japan to help defend a U.S. ship under attack. The U.S. has long been able to help a Japanese ship in the same situation, but Japan's prohibitions against collective self-defense didn't allow the reverse.

The legislation sparked protests and debate in Japan about whether Tokyo should shift away from its pacifist ways to face growing security challenges.

The law's supporters say Japan's neighborhood has become a more dangerous place, citing North Korean missile tests and Chinese challenges to Japanese sovereignty over remote islands.

They say Japan's military needs to be more active to deter China and North Korea and help preserve Japan's peace and prosperity. A major goal of the legislation is to allow the military to work more closely with its main ally, the United States, strengthening their joint capabilities.


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