TOKYO: U.S. President Donald Trump's defence secretary reaffirmed America's commitment to its mutual defense treaty with Japan on Friday (Feb 3) during a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
Jim Mattis, on his first trip since taking over the Pentagon, appeared eager to reassure Japan of U.S. resolve, after an election campaign that saw Trump question the value of U.S. alliances.
Mattis said provocations by North Korea, which is advancing its nuclear weapons and missile programs, left no room for doubt about U.S. commitment. It was a similar message he delivered over the past two days in South Korea.
"I want to make certain that Article 5 of our mutual defense treaty is understood to be as real to us today as it was a year ago, five years ago - and as it will be a year, and 10 years, from now," Mattis said.
Article 5 obliges the United States to defend territories under Japanese administrative control.
Japan has been keen for assurances that Trump's administration would continue Washington's previous policy of committing to defend disputed East China Sea islands that are under Japanese control but claimed also by China.
Kyodo news agency, citing an unidentified Japanese government source, said Mattis had confirmed that the U.S. defense commitment extended to the disputed islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Abe said he was convinced that, with Trump and Mattis, the United States and Japan could demonstrate to the world their "unwavering alliance."
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida echoed that message to Mattis in a meeting later on Friday, saying it was important to further strengthen the alliance in the face of an "increasingly severe" security environment in the region.
Japan's defense spending remains about 1 per cent of gross domestic product, far less than that of China.
Trump singled out both South Korea and Japan on the campaign trail, suggesting they were benefiting from the U.S. security umbrella without sharing enough of the costs.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has also jolted the region by pulling the United States out of an Asia-Pacific trade deal that Japan had championed.
Mattis is due to hold talks on Saturday with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who has repeatedly said Japan is bearing its fair share of the costs for U.S. troops stationed there and has stressed that the alliance is good for both countries.
Mattis' visit to Japan comes just a week ahead of a trip to Washington by Prime Minister Abe, and talks with Trump there on Feb. 10.
Japan is putting together a package it says could generate 700,000 U.S. jobs and help create a $450-billion market, which will be presented to Trump, government sources familiar with the plans said.