Published : 2013-01-16 09:08
Updated : 2013-01-16 09:08
The U.S. government's official stance towards Japan's move to flex its military muscles remained elusive Tuesday, keeping media speculation alive on the politically and diplomatically sensitive issue.
Japan's new conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has been apparently seeking to increase the nation's military budget and expand the role of its self-defense forces abroad.
Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department, dismissed speculation on Japan's military drive as stemming from "press reports."
"Obviously, we're consulting with the Abe government on the direction that it wants to go on a whole variety of things," she said at a press briefing. "So I don't think we're going to comment on some of these press reports out of Japan about what the government might do until we get a chance to talk to the government."
Nuland pointed out that an inter-agency team, led by Assistant Secretary of State Curt Campbell, is traveling to Seoul and Tokyo for consultations with the new governments there.
She re-emphasized Washington's firm push for closer bilateral security ties with the key regional allies and stronger trilateral cooperation.
"What I would say, though, is that Japan is a treaty ally of the United States. We work together very intensively on the security of Japan, the security of the whole Northeast Asian region," she added.
The return of Abe to power has raised concern among Japan's neighbors, including South Korea and China, which have a vivid memory of Japan's imperialistic past.
Last Sunday, Abe visited the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo, which honors war criminals and others, becoming the country's first leader to do so since his 2007 visit.
In an interview with a local television station a day later, Abe made clear that his government will campaign for the right to "collective self-defense."
It would allow Japan to launch a counterattack if an ally is attacked by a foreign nation.
Abe's push, albeit not new, comes at a sensitive time when territorial tensions between China and Japan have grown sharply.
Diplomatic observers here said the U.S. actually supports Japan's growing military role in regional security but it does not openly talk about it due to relations with South Korea and China.
Nuland said the issue of the new Japanese government's security policy will be discussed when Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visits Washington on Friday.
Regarding a joint strategy on North Korea, she said the U.S. delegation, also involving Assistant Secretary of Defense Mark Lippert and National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel, hopes to hear about the incoming Park administration's policy.
She said there will be no immediate review by the Obama government on North Korea policy unless the communist regime changes its course.
"To my knowledge, there's no policy review planned here," she said. "You know where we are on all of these things. We've been clear about that in the context of our concerns about the DPRK (North Korea)'s course." (Yonhap News)