Japan, US agree to revise defense cooperation guidelines

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (L), and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) review an honor guard at Defense Ministry on October 3, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan and the United States agreed Thursday to revise bilateral defense cooperation guidelines by the end of next year, for the first time in 17 years, to better deal with the changing security environment.

At the end of a "two-plus-two" security meeting in Tokyo, foreign and defense chiefs of the two countries also said the transfer of some of the US Marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam will begin in the first half of the 2020s as a way to ease Okinawa's burden of hosting the bulk of US military bases in Japan.

A joint statement said the ministers confirmed they will work to enhance ballistic missile defense capabilities, while urging China to "play a responsible and constructive role in regional stability and prosperity, to adhere to international norms of behavior."

Amid China's rapid military buildup, the ministers called on Beijing to improve "openness and transparency."

The latest revision is designed to meet new challenges in areas such as cybersecurity and space, coming at a time when China's increased maritime assertiveness has raised concern.

The statement said the ministers welcomed efforts toward realizing the joint use of US and Japanese facilities to "strengthen the Self-Defense Forces posture in areas, including Japan's southwestern islands," namely the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The defense cooperation guidelines were created in 1978 at the height of the Cold War to specify the responsibilities for Japan's SDF and the US military in the event of a Soviet invasion, and were revised in 1997 to prepare for contingencies on the Korean Peninsula.

To enhance defense capabilities, the statement said the United States will deploy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft in Japan from December -- the first such deployment outside the United States -- and the unmanned surveillance drone Global Hawk from spring 2014.

The two-plus-two meeting comes as China continues to send patrol ships and airplanes to areas around the Japanese-administered Senkakus in apparent protest against Japan's effective nationalization of the islands, which China claims as Diaoyu.

Japan's security arrangements have been built on the long-standing alliance with the United States, which the ministers called in the statement "the cornerstone of peace and security in the region."

The two countries will meet security challenges "through close cooperation and a more interoperable and flexible force posture," the statement said.

From Japan, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera attended the meeting, while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry represented the United States.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to rework the country's defense posture by reviewing defense program guidelines to strengthen the SDF capabilities, and to lift a self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally under armed attack.

The joint statement said the United States "welcomed these efforts" made by Japan and will "collaborate closely."

As sentiment against U.S. bases in Japan continues to run high, Japan and the United States discussed a series of measures for Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of those bases, and agreed to go ahead with the planned relocation of the Futenma Air Station from a densely populated area to an offshore area within the prefecture.

The planned relocation "is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial and strategic concerns," the statement said.

On MV-22 Ospreys' deployment that has met strong opposition due to the tilt-rotor aircraft's checkered safety record, the ministers agreed to move some Osprey training flights out of Okinawa, including abroad, and to proceed with a bilateral agreement to return land occupied by U.S. facilities south of the Kadena Air Base.