Japan urged to act fast on Asia security threats

By Hiroki Noda, Kyodo News

Posted at Jun 02 2014 06:32 PM | Updated as of Jun 03 2014 03:33 PM

TOKYO - The United States is looking for immediate steps by Japan to address the growing security threats in the Asia-Pacific region posed by China and North Korea, Kurt Campbell, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said Monday.

"We believe the security environment indicates that immediate steps are in the best strategic interest of the region," Campbell told reporters in Tokyo when asked if a review of the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines should be concluded by the end of this year.

"We came to Japan to visit with a variety of friends to send a strong message that the security environment is changing dramatically in Asia," Campbell said, alongside Michael Green, former senior director for Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council.

Japan and the United States are working to renew their defense guidelines, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is attempting to expand the Self-Defense Forces' international role by changing the interpretation of part of the pacifist Constitution.

In Tokyo, Campbell explained to government and ruling coalition officials how serious the security situation is in Asia.

Campbell also said the United States, Japan and South Korea need to strengthen defense ties to counter the threats.

"We strongly support the efforts both in public and behind the scenes to build stronger bonds currently between Japan and South Korea," he said. "The United States has a strong interest that our two closest partners work together in a changing environment in Asia."

His comments came at a time when Japan and South Korea are at odds over territorial and historical issues.

"We recognize any hope of diplomacy in Asia right now rests on the strong reality of defense and deterrence," Campbell added. "The region is looking for signs of strong leadership from the United States and Japan."

"We hope that circumstances will permit at some point in improving the relationship between Japan and China as well."

China has been assertive in both the East China Sea and South China Sea, where it has made territorial claims against Japan, and Vietnam and the Philippines, respectively.

As for North Korea, Green said in fluent Japanese that the country has been developing ballistic missiles, and they are targeted at Japan and Guam, where a U.S. military base is located.

"North Korea also has a surprising number of small submarines," he warned. "With the current constitutional framework, Japan can't respond to those contingencies. The credibility of the U.S.-Japan security alliance will be in jeopardy if Japan says it can't cooperate when its allies are under attack."