TOKYO — The United States and Japan moved Thursday to modernize and expand their defense alliance to counter new challenges, including a nuclear-armed North Korea and potential aggression from China over disputed territory.
In the first update to the defense partnership in 16 years, the allies agreed to position a second early-warning radar in Japan within the next year to help protect against North Korea. And by next spring, they will deploy new long-range surveillance drones to help monitor disputed islands in the East China Sea, a move that may well raise tensions with Beijing.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and their Japanese counterparts also put a price, for the first time, on what Japan will contribute to the relocation of Marines out of Okinawa to Guam and other locations in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan will pay up to $3.1 billion of the estimated $8.6 billion cost of the move, which includes development of new facilities in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
"Japan is changing, and so is its neighborhood," Kerry told reporters after the meeting. "So we're coming together now to modernize our deep cooperation, through both our military alliances and our diplomatic partnerships, and that is so we can better prevent and respond to the ever-changing threats of the 21st century."
The deep neighborhood divisions were underscored, even as the meeting occurred, when a new naval exercise among the U.S., Japan and South Korea scheduled for next week was disclosed, provoking the National Peace Committee of Korea to condemn the exercise, which will include the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and its strike group, as reckless saber-rattling.
The new X-band radar system is designed to protect the region against the North Korean threat, boosting Japan's ability to track and intercept missiles from across the Sea of Japan. Officials have stressed it is not directed at China. Kerry acknowledged the threat from Pyongyang, but he also said the U.S. was willing to sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea if it gives up its nuclear weapons and complies with international demands.
The drones, meanwhile, are intended to help step up surveillance around the Senkaku islands, a source of heated debate between Japan and China. While the U.S. has operated unmanned aircraft over Japan in the past, for example during the 2011 tsunami, this would be the first time that drones would be based on a U.S. base in Japan.
Hagel said the U.S. reiterated that while Washington takes no side on the question of the islands' sovereignty, it recognizes Japan's administration of them and has responsibilities to protect Japanese territory under a mutual defense treaty.
"We strongly oppose any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control," he said.
China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, which fell during a weeklong national holiday. Beijing has criticized the installation of the first military radar system, announced last month, to monitor Pyongyang's military activities. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei then said the plans could affect regional stability and upset the strategic balance.