Japan, U.S. defense chiefs agree on cybersecurity, Senkakus

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed Thursday to cooperate on fighting cyberattacks and handling tensions over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

During their talks at the Defense Ministry, Onodera and Hagel also welcomed an agreement signed by officials earlier in the day to create a bilateral framework to discuss cybersecurity measures to counter attacks on government agencies and other organizations, often blamed on countries such as China and North Korea.

The two countries will cooperate in training personnel capable of countering such new borderless threats, while reaffirming they stand side by side over the Japanese-administered islands at the heart of heightened tensions with China, a Japanese official said.

Onodera emphasized that Japan will not tolerate changes to maritime order by the use of force, and will protect its territories. Hagel repeated Washington's stance that the islands are under the administration of Japan and covered by the U.S.-Japan security treaty, the official said.

"We'd like to share views on the security environment surrounding Japan, including the issue of North Korea," Onodera told Hagel at the outset of the meeting.

Under the cybersecurity framework, Japanese and U.S. vice-ministerial officials will meet twice a year to share information.

Japan and the United States will also bolster cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military by training personnel and conducting joint exercises to cope with cyberattacks, Japan's Defense Ministry said.

After effectively nationalizing the Senkaku Islands in September last year, Japan has seen an increase in cyberattacks on the computer networks of government agencies and other entities.

Hagel's visit to Japan came a day after the United States and South Korea signed a joint military strategy in Seoul to counter threats from North Korea's nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

In Thursday's meeting, Hagel told Onodera that there are new challenges and threats that need to be addressed. "That is always requiring a review of obligations" in the alliance, he added.

To cope with threats from North Korea, Onodera and Hagel agreed on the importance of trilateral cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the United States.

They also reaffirmed their commitment to an early return of land occupied by U.S. facilities south of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa to help reduce the burden on the southern Japan prefecture of hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.

As opposition remains strong to the deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to Okinawa due to its checkered safety records, Onodera called on the U.S. side to follow through on a bilateral agreement on the aircraft's operations. Hagel said the U.S. military will continue to ensure safety, according to the Japanese official.

Following the deployment of 24 Ospreys to the U.S. Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, local government officials and residents have argued that the agreed restrictions on low-altitude and nighttime flights have been violated.

Tokyo and Washington have agreed to conduct joint training exercises using the tilt-rotor aircraft outside of Okinawa later this month, making it the latest gesture of bilateral efforts to ease the prefecture's base-hosting burdens.

Following the talks the two defense chiefs joined Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to hold a "two-plus-two" security meeting in Tokyo.