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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Japan seeks stronger military ties with US

TOKYO — Japan's defence minister said his country needs stronger military ties with the US and South Korea to balance China's growing might, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In an interview with the paper, Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said relations with the United States were strengthened by the help its military provided in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

He said Japan was particularly concerned about China's increasing naval capabilities.

"Our priority is to make our bilateral relationship with the US rock solid," he told the paper.

"In order to maintain the right balance in our relationship with China, we need to also solidify the ties between Japan, the US and South Korea," said Kitazawa, of the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan.

Kitazawa earlier this month tearfully thanked US forces for their help in the round-the-clock relief effort in the aftermath of the quake and tsunami.

His comments appear to show a change of attitude in the ruling party, whose previous premier, Yukio Hatoyama, had vowed a less subservient relationship with Washington.

Relations have improved somewhat since Prime Minister Naoto Kan assumed office, but a controversial base on Okinawa, which reluctantly hosts more than half of the 47,000 US troops stationed in Japan, remains an irritant in ties between the security allies.

On a visit to Japan in January, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that US forces needed to remain in Japan to deter the volatile North Korean regime and counter China's assertive stance in the region.

Japan's relations with China plunged to their lowest point in years last September over a territorial dispute involving islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

The row erupted after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese coastguard ships near the uninhabited islets.

Gates has warned that China's advances in military hardware presented a possible threat to the US military's presence in the Pacific.

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