Japan eyes Philippines and US keeping China in check

TOKYO - Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera is making final arrangements to visit the Philippines later this month and Hawaii in the United States next month in a bid to keep China in check, a Japanese government source said Friday.

Onodera, during his trip to the Southeast Asian country from June 26 and his Hawaii trip on July 1, aims to stress the need to ensure maritime safety based on the rule of law amid China's growing assertiveness at sea, the source said.

In Hawaii, Onodera aims to reconfirm that the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea fall under the scope of the Japan-U.S. security treaty which requires the United States to defend Japan in the event of an armed attack.

Ahead of the July 4 start of the House of Councillors election campaign, the government also wants to assure conservatives at home that Japan is maintaining a hard-line posture in security issues, political analysts say.

The Japanese defense minister plans to discuss with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin the current tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea and coordinate their responses to China, the source said.

Japan and China remain at odds over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands. Japan says no dispute exists since the islets are an inherent part of the country's territory in terms of history and international law, while Beijing claims the islands and calls them Diaoyu.

China is also involved in a dispute with the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian nations over the ownership of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Both Tokyo and Manila have protested Chinese vessels' intrusion in their respective territorial waters near the disputed areas.

In Hawaii, Onodera is also set to discuss with Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, on whether the current missile defense system is sufficient to deal with North Korea given Pyongyang's progress in missile development.

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December, he has been striving to bolster defense ties between Japan and other countries, having already sent top officials of the Self-Defense Forces to Southeast Asian nations including Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.



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