United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter has described Washington’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region as “enduring” during a visit to Japan ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.
Kyodo news agency reported that Carter and his Japanese counterpart Tomomi Inada reaffirmed Wednesday the strength of their countries’ bilateral alliance.
“We agreed to continue to closely cooperate based on the robust Japan-U.S. alliance,” Inada told a joint press conference.
The meeting came ahead of the inauguration next month of Trump, who previously expressed criticism over Japan allegedly not paying enough for U.S. security support.
Carter insisted that Japan “makes a very strong financial contribution to the U.S. presence” in the island country, underlining that U.S. interests in the region are “enduring” and the alliance “provides many benefits to both of our sides”.
He expressed commitment to “an orderly handover of responsibilities in the Department of Defense” to retired Gen. James Mattis, who Trump has nominated to replace Carter.
Inada said that while she cannot predict policies in Washington, “to strengthen the alliance, I think we should hold talks not from the viewpoint of money, but of raising the capabilities [of the alliance].”
According to Kyodo, Carter had earlier told reporters that the U.S. is “satisfied” with Japan’s “host-nation support” under which the ally country covers costs for base workers, utilities and training and other expenses that amount to almost 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion) per year.
Carter and Inada also reaffirmed plans regarding the planned return of around half of a large U.S. military training area in Okinawa prefecture to Japan’s government Dec. 22.
Around 4,000 hectares out of 7,800 in what is called the Northern Training Area are set to be returned in what would be the largest such exercise since Japan regained control of Okinawa in 1972.
Washington has been agreeable to returning a large part of the training area for nearly 20 years as part of a mutual agreement by Washington and Tokyo to lighten the American military “footprint” on the crowded island.
The people of Okinawa have long felt oppressed by hosting around two-thirds of the entire U.S. military establishment in Japan since the end of World War II.
Successive Japanese governments have defended the large American presence as necessary for the defense of Japan.