TOKYO Feb 4 Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi
Inada said on Saturday she hoped a visit by U.S. Defense
Secretary Jim Mattis to South Korea and Japan this week, his
first overseas trip since taking office, would lead to deeper
security ties among the three countries.
Inada spoke at the start of talks with Mattis, who on Friday
reaffirmed Washington's commitment to its mutual defense treaty
with Japan when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
"The security situation in the Asia-Pacific is becoming
increasingly severe," Inada said, adding she wanted to
strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.
"South Korea is an important neighbor," Inada added. "I want
to link Secretary Mattis' visit to Japan and South Korea to the
further deepening of defense cooperation among the three
Japan's relations with South Korea have frayed in recent
weeks due to a feud over wartime history, just as tensions over
North Korea make cooperation between the two allies vital.
Japan last month temporarily recalled its ambassador to
South Korea over a statue near the Japanese consulate in Busan
city commemorating Korean "comfort women". Japan also suspended
talks on a new currency swap arrangement.
The term "comfort women" is a euphemism for women forced to
work in Japanese military brothels. South Korean activists
estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean
Tokyo says the statue, put in place late last year, and
another near the Japanese embassy in Seoul, violate a December
2015 agreement stating the issue - which has long plagued ties -
would be "irreversibly resolved" if all conditions were met.
Mattis said on Friday that provocations by North Korea,
which is advancing its nuclear weapons and missile programs in
defiance of U.N. resolutions, left no room for doubt about U.S.
commitment to Japan's defense. It was similar to the message he
delivered in South Korea.
He appeared eager to reassure Japan of U.S. resolve, after a
2016 election campaign in which Donald Trump, before becoming
president, suggested both South Korea and Japan were benefiting
from a U.S. security umbrella without sharing enough of the
Japan has also been keen for assurances that the Trump
administration will adhere to Washington's commitment to defend
disputed East China Sea islands that are under Japanese control
but claimed also by China.
(reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by