U.S. Republican Rubio backs Abe's push for collective self-defense

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican rumored to be a major candidate for the next presidential election, on Monday threw his support behind Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's initiative to enable Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack.

Rubio, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, voiced his support in a meeting with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in Tokyo, according to a Defense Ministry official.

Rubio was quoted as saying that Japan and the United States must cooperate in "minimizing friction" with Okinawa Prefecture in connection with the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within the island prefecture.

The meeting came a day after the re-election in Okinawa of the mayor of Nago, who is opposed to a Japan-U.S. accord to relocate the base to the city from densely populated Ginowan, generating a political headache for the Abe government.

The senator from Florida called for advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, saying a deal would benefit Asia as a whole, the official said.

In a separate meeting, Rubio and Senior Vice Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi affirmed the importance of maintaining the rule of law in the Asia-Pacific region while discussing the TPP and regional affairs such as China and Japan-South Korea relations, the Foreign Ministry said in a news release.

Rubio is on the first leg of a three-nation Asian tour that will also take him to the Philippines and South Korea.