The United States yesterday offered Japan strong reassurances over its growing security concerns, saying it will deploy two more Aegis-equipped destroyers to Japan by 2017 to counter missile threats from North Korea.
As significantly, visiting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would use his three-day trip to China, which begins today, to warn Beijing against abusing its "great power".
He announced the deployment of the two additional destroyers in talks here yesterday with Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera.
At a press conference, Mr Hagel said the deployment of the ships was in response to Pyongyang's "pattern of provocative and destabilising actions".
Last month, Pyongyang shot two missiles into the Sea of Japan just as the leaders of Japan, South Korea and the US were to hold a trilateral summit in The Hague to discuss the North Korean threat.
The two additional ships, which use powerful computer and radar technology to track and guide weapons to destroy ballistic missiles, will bring to seven the total number of such vessels deployed in Japan.
Mr Hagel, who arrived in Japan on Saturday, is on his fourth trip to the Asia-Pacific since taking over at the Pentagon a year ago. The tour includes his first trip to China as Defence Secretary and he is expected to discuss the air defence identification zone, cyber attacks and North Korea.
In unusually strong language, Mr Hagel said yesterday that he would tell Chinese officials that in wielding "great power" they must have respect for their neighbours. "Great powers have great responsibilities. And China is a great power," Mr Hagel said, adding that he wanted to talk with China about its use of military power and encourage transparency.
"Something else... that I will be talking with the Chinese about is respect for their neighbours. Coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict," he said. "All nations, all people deserve respect."
He pointed to the example of Russia's annexation of Crimea as the kind of action that would not be tolerated.
He said: "You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and the sovereignty of nations by force, collusion or intimidation, whether it's in small islands in the Pacific, or in large nations in Europe."
Mr Hagel's visit comes amid China's aggressive claims to several island clusters in the region, including the Japanese- controlled Senkaku islands which Beijing calls Diaoyu. He reaffirmed that the islands fell under the US security umbrella.
In talks last week with ASEAN defence ministers in Hawaii, Mr Hagel also expressed US concern about territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
This article was published on April 7 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.