Japan trying to repair ties with Washington

The new Japanese government is trying to earn back trust from the United States, its most important ally, by showing support for initiatives that recent prime ministers in Tokyo have let languish.

The ideas include support for a multi-nation free-trade agreement and for allowing easier exports of Japanese weapons technology, ventures that have strong support in Washington. New Japanese leaders have also signaled their intention to carry out a long-stalled agreement with Washington that would put the U.S. Marine presence in Okinawa on a more solid footing.

New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has brought some close allies and some fresh faces to his cabinet, and struck a confident tone Friday as he faces the massive challenges that confront him. (Sept. 2)

But it is not clear whether Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has the political capital to carry out these plans, which face strong opposition in Japan, while also focusing on domestic concerns, particularly those related to fiscal tightening and disaster reconstruction.

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Hillary Visits Japan and offers sympathy and support

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Japan since its devastating earthquake and tsunami last month, Sunday expressed sympathy and support in meetings with the country’s prime minister and various officials as well its emperor and empress in a rare audience over afternoon tea.

Arriving at the imperial palace residence, Clinton shook the emperor’s hand and kissed the empress on both cheeks. “I’m so, so sorry for everything your country is going through. If there’s anything we can do for you . . . ,” Clinton said as she held the empress’s hands.

The effusive statements of support and appreciation from both sides during the visit reflect a high-water mark in the relationship — spurred on by strong U.S. support since the March 11 earthquake with funding, disaster relief and nuclear expertise.

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SDF and US Joint Search Turn Up 20 More Bodies

The Self-Defense Forces, the U.S. military and other rescue workers recovered 20 bodies Saturday as their three-day intensive search for the missing in tsunami-hit coastal areas of Tohoku continued.

During two days of searching by some 18,000 SDF personnel and about 7,000 U.S. military personnel, as well as members of the police, the Japan Coast Guard and fire departments, the total number of bodies recovered stands at 53.

The bulk of Saturday’s operation was held in and around Ishinomaki, one of the worst-affected cities in Miyagi Prefecture. A search was conducted around an elementary school where many pupils were reported missing after the tsunami, while some 50 divers from the SDF, the Japan Coast Guard and other entities were deployed to nearby Kitakami River, the largest in northeastern Japan.

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US presses Japan to act soon on child abduction cases

A senior US official pressed Japan on Wednesday to act in the coming months to address concerns by US parents over child abductions, warning of rising anger by lawmakers against the ally.

Japan said in September that it was seriously considering signing the international treaty to stop child abductions, although officials said it may take time as the nation would need to change domestic laws.

"It’s going to be important that we see progress soon on this issue. There is a building degree of anxiety — and in some places anger — on Capitol Hill," said Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia.

Calling himself a "strong supporter" of the alliance with Japan, Campbell asked the country both to sign the Hague treaty and to deal "responsibly and humanely" with pending cases.

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Global Hawk may be Japan’s new Spy Plane of Choice

Japan’s Ministry of Defense is determining whether the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles will be necessary and plans to launch a full-scale study in 2011.

The most advanced high-altitude unmanned plane is the “Global Hawk (GH)” according to U.S. military officials. With aims to strengthen surveillance of the Chinese Navy and the Korean Peninsula, operations need to be stepped up in the waters around Japan, and the ministry is wondering if an unmanned vehicle program is a cost-effective implementation worth considering.

Unmanned aircraft, come with various benefits such as the length of flight time, no victims in conflict areas, and a proven worthy record as the U.S. military has used them effectively in Iraq.

The Global Hawk is currently used by the U.S. Air Force, has a total length of 14.5 meters and a width of about 40 meters. According to an official of the Ministry of Defense, three facilities need to be built to run an unmanned program, two maintenance facilities and another to function as headquarters, with a total cost of several hundred billion yen in the initial year and has become an issue of budgetary consideration.

Currently, the surveillance activity of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force is being conducted by manned aircraft, P3C patrol aircraft.

Japan to keep paying $2 billion for US troop support

Japan’s government agreed Tuesday to continue contributing $2.2 billion a year toward the cost of stationing American troops in the country.

Under the agreement with the United States, Japan’s share will remain at the current 188 billion yen ($2.2 billion) through March 2016. The current pact expires next March.

Japan had sought a cut in its payment during months of negotiations on the renewal because of economic woes. But officials agreed on no reduction after tensions on the Korean peninsula and worries over China’s growing military might highlighted the U.S. military’s role as a deterrent for security threats.

"As both Japan and the U.S. are in extremely tight fiscal conditions, we are striving to act under the spirit of our alliance," Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said. "The agreement to maintain the amount is reasonable."

The payment supports the 47,000 American service members based in Japan under a bilateral security pact. Tokyo’s share is about a third of the total, and about three times what Germany pays to host U.S. forces on its soil.

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Japan, U.S. have finished joint military drills

The United States and Japan wrapped up seven days of joint military exercises Friday, as tensions simmered on the Korean peninsula.

About 40,000 U.S. service members and Japanese military personnel took part in the exercises that the U.S. Air Force called the largest joint, bilateral field training exercise between the two nations. It was the 10th such exercise since 1986.

The "Keen Sword" drills took place on military sites in Okinawa, mainland Japan and the waters surrounding it, according to officials.

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Japan to deploy missile interceptors against any N. Korea threat

The Japanese government plans to boost its deployment of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles at air bases across Japan to counter the threat of North Koreas ballistic missiles under new defense policy guidelines to be approved later this month, officials said Friday.A draft appendix to the guidelines to be updated as early as next week covering the five years from April 2011 also stipulates equipping all six Aegis destroyers with Standard Missile-3 interceptors while cutting tanks and artillery by about 200 each to 400, the government and Self-Defense Forces officials said.Along with a plan to increase the number of submarines from 16 to 22 for enhanced vigilance around the Nansei chain of islands in the southwest centering on Okinawa, the planned defense posture is apparently aimed at dealing with North Korea and deterring China.The move comes amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula following North Koreas artillery attack on a South Korean island last month, and Chinas rapid military buildup and increasing naval activity.The PAC-3 missile system, which is designed to shoot down an incoming missile from the ground before it lands, will be deployed to all six of the Air Self-Defense Forces air defense missile groups from three at present, according to the officials.The three groups are located at Iruma base in Saitama Prefecture, which covers the Tokyo metropolitan area, Kasuga base in Fukuoka Prefecture, which is responsible for security in the southwestern Kyushu region, and Gifu base aimed at defending Nagoya in central Japan and Osaka in western Japan.

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US, Japan and allies to set strategy on North Korea

The United States will host high-level talks on Monday with allies South Korea and Japan to forge a strategy for dealing with a volatile nuclear-armed North Korea amid allied shows of military force.

The talks hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton follow North Korea’s deadly bombardment of a South Korean border island on November 23, which triggered days of US-South Korean war games in the Yellow Sea.

Meanwhile, South Korea threatened to hit back with air strikes at the North if there is a new assault, and the largest ever US-Japan war games kicked off Friday in waters off the tense Korean peninsula.

The allied muscle-flexing and Clinton’s planned talks with foreign ministers Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea and Seiji Maehara of Japan expose the isolation of China, which has taken a softer approach to reining in its ally in Pyongyang.

The United States, South Korea and Japan all refused China’s invitation for them and Russia to hold emergency six-party talks in Beijing after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, killing two civilians and two marines.

The five countries, plus North Korea, make up the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at scrapping Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo oppose a return to the negotiations until Pyongyang shows it is serious about disarmament.

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