Defence chief: US rebalance in Asia to enter next phase

Defence chief: US rebalance in Asia to enter next phase

WASHINGTON - US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said he would exert his leadership in implementing President Barack Obama's rebalancing policy that attaches great importance to the Asia-Pacific region, saying, he is "personally committed to overseeing the next phase of our rebalance."

He made the remarks in a written interview conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday ahead of his visit to Japan from Tuesday to Thursday.

Carter also said Japan and South Korea should overcome past tensions and today's political situation, and stressed the necessity to deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats through future-oriented trilateral co-operation among the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Asked about the next phase of the rebalancing policy, which he would pursue, Carter said it "will deepen and diversify our engagement both in the region and with Japan."

Carter cited a new version of the Japan-US defence co-operation guidelines as an example and expressed expectations that the new guidelines would expand opportunities for the US forces and the Self-Defence Forces to "seamlessly co-operate."

Regarding strengthening co-operation among Japan, the United States and South Korea, Carter said the three countries "must look toward the future."

Carter then encouraged Japan and South Korea to become more future-oriented.

"The United States appreciates the historical sensitivities in this relationship, but we believe the potential gains of co-operation - the opportunities that exist for both our two long-time allies, and the entire region - outweigh yesterday's tensions and today's politics," he said.

Meanwhile, Carter criticised China's land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, saying they are "inconsistent with China's own past commitments to ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries."

He added: "We are especially concerned at the prospect of militarization of these outposts. These activities seriously increase tensions and reduce prospects for diplomatic solutions."

The US government is wary of China's move to unilaterally establish an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea. Carter's remarks are intended to pressure Beijing not to expand land reclamation.

Carter also stressed the significance of the relocation of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago in the same prefecture.

"That facility is a key part of our commitment to make our presence in Japan and in Okinawa sustainable for the long term," Carter said. "And it is the only solution that will result in the return of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma."

Carter expressed appreciation for the efforts of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Defence Minister Gen Nakatani over the relocation issue.

Carter, who assumed his post in February, will visit Japan for the first time as defence secretary. According to the US Defence Department, it was the first time that he has accepted an exclusive interview with foreign news media since he assumed his post.

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