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American Forces Press Service

Chairman Calls U.S.-Japan Relationship 'Vital'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2009 – U.S. basing in Japan, Japanese help in Afghanistan and regional and global challenges were among the issues the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed during a news conference yesterday in Tokyo.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with the leaders in the region during a Pacific trip.

This was Mullen’s first visit to Japan since a new government took over. It also was his first meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Gen. Ryoichi Oriki.

The U.S.-Japan relationship is about more than mutual defense; it has regional and global implications, Mullen said.

“This is a vital relationship, bilaterally,” the chairman said. “It’s a vital region in the world. I actually spent a great deal of my time in the Pacific growing up, and I'm particularly focused on this relationship and this region. And some of the areas – whether it’s missile defense or counter-piracy – we’re looking for ways to strengthen the bonds.”

He said the U.S.-Japan alliance is as strong as it ever has been.

Mullen thanked the Japanese for their contributions to peace around the world. “I’m especially grateful for the contributions of Japan in Central Asia: the refueling operations, the support to the … Pakistani military,” he said. “I’m also mindful of the contributions to the salaries of the police in Afghanistan. That’s a significant contribution, and we really think the way to stability in Afghanistan is through the development of their forces – their army and police.”

The admiral said he wants the agreement signed between the United States and Japan in 2006 to move forward. That agreement calls for the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, the realignment of other U.S. forces and ways the two nations work together militarily. While the alliance is about the defense of Japan, “it has also provided a basis for regional stability and for response,” Mullen said.

The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan provides “the military capability, the operational flexibility, the adjustment to the continuing threats in the region,” Mullen said, giving the nations the ability to respond to current and future threats.

Reporters quizzed Mullen about Japanese contributions to operations in Afghanistan. The Japanese have provided ship refueling capability in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese also sponsored a donors’ conference for the region and have financed police training and pay.

The chairman called Afghanistan and Pakistan the epicenter of terrorism in the world. “So it’s not just a regional issue, it’s a global issue,” he said.

He applauded the Japanese efforts in many areas. The Japanese have opportunities to help in building or rebuilding infrastructure in Afghanistan, he noted, and he called on them to continue their support to the Afghan National Police. The Japanese can continue to fund “those kinds of things which aren’t as directly militarily focused as some others that could also be very helpful,” he said.

The chairman spoke about the regional picture in Northeast Asia, and said North Korea clearly is a threat to Japan. The success of talks designed to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear facilities and stop proliferating nuclear and missile technology, he added, are vital to the region.

“I think we all agree that a denuclearized North Korea is the outcome we all seek,” Mullen said. “We can’t accept anything else.”

The chairman also addressed the Chinese military build-up. “I have been concerned about their increased investment in their defense capability, their clear shift of focus from a ground-centric force to a naval- and air- centric force that seems to, now, push off-island, if you will, beyond the first island chain and out to the second island chain,” he said.

The United States has renewed military-to-military relationships with China, and the chairman said he believes this is a positive move. “I have said for a long time that the peaceful rise of China, the economic engine that China is, there’s a lot of positive potential there,” Mullen said.

But it is still difficult to understand the strategic intent of China’s military buildup, he acknowledged. He said some of the build-up seems targeted at U.S. and Japanese naval forces.

“And so I would hope in the end that, in fact, their strategic intent is a positive one of security for their people and their country and not one that puts us into a position that could generate a conflict,” he said.

The chairman said cyberwarfare is becoming a “mainstream threat” and that all nations of the region must deal with it. The cyberspace domain is critical to both the United Stats and Japan, and he said the two nations will work together to defend this new battlespace.

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