Remote islands key in guidelines

During their meeting on Friday, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and his US counterpart, Chuck Hagel, reconfirmed a schedule for formally deciding on the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation by the year-end after releasing an interim report of the new guidelines in autumn, sources said.

The Japanese and US governments plan to unveil the interim report that compiles an outline of the guidelines in September or October, according to sources. The two governments are also considering holding the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee, which comprises both nations' foreign and defence ministers and is known as two-plus-two, when they finalize the new guidelines.

The focus of the bilateral defence guidelines revisions is expected to be on how the two nations will cooperate to address so-called gray-zone situations, cases that cannot be immediately judged as armed attacks. A case such as the seizure of remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, by an armed group disguised as fishermen is considered to be a gray-zone situation.

The United States clarified its stance that Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, which stipulates the obligation of the United States to defend Japan, applies to the Senkaku Islands. However, some observers say Japan cannot expect the US military to come to its aid when the case is a gray-zone situation.

The current defence guidelines revised in 1997 have given special emphasis to dealing with emergencies on the Korean Peninsula, and they do not provide clear stipulations on how to deal with gray-zone situations.

The government hopes to secure the US military's involvement in defending the nation in the future by stipulating the roles of the Self-Defence Forces and the US military in the defence of remote islands, including in the case of gray-zone situations, sources said.

Regarding emergencies on the Korean Peninsula, if a restriction on SDF actions deemed inseparable from the use of force by another country is eased on the basis of the government's new interpretation of the Constitution, it will be possible to expand the scope of the SDF's logistic support to the US forces. Countermeasures for cyber-attacks, as well as cooperation in space fields, including maritime surveillance using satellites will be stipulated in the revised guidelines, sources said.

Onodera stressed the aims of the guidelines revisions at a press conference on Friday, saying, "We'd like to ensure the contents [of the guidelines] allow Japan and the United States to cooperate seamlessly and swiftly together in cases ranging from normal circumstances, including gray-zone situations, to emergencies."

The government plans to submit bills based on the new guidelines during next year's ordinary Diet session.