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U.S., Japan Announce Updated Defense Guidelines


Today the U.S. and Japan signed new defense guidelines that Secretary of State John Kerry describes as historic. The agreement allows Japan to take a more robust role internationally, and it comes at a time when China is flexing its military muscle in the region. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The updated defense agreement was nearly two years in the making, and its underlying theme is that the U.S. and Japan will stand by each other in the face of evolving threats in the Asia-Pacific arena. The document signals a major department for Japan's military forces. Since World War II the country has had a pacifist constitution which limited its military to a self-defense role only. Now Japan's armed forces could defend U.S. airplanes and ships if attacked in Japan's neighborhood or beyond. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the agreement.


JOHN KERRY: Today we mark the establishment of Japan's capacity to defend not just its own territory but also the United States and other partners as needed. It's an historic transition in the defense relationship between our countries.

NORTHAM: The revised agreement will allow more cooperation between the two allies on intelligence sharing, cybersecurity, and surveillance and reconnaissance operations. It also increases Japan's role in mine sweeping, missile defense, and ship inspections. Speaking through an interpreter, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the new powers are needed to keep the region stable.


FUMIO KISHIDA: (Through interpreter) We hope to promote a broad-based Japan-U.S. security and defense cooperation so that the deterrents as well as responsibilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance will be further strengthened.

NORTHAM: The new agreement is seen as a deterrent to North Korea and China, which has been increasing its military assertiveness in the region, especially around a cluster of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that Japan also claims. Ships and fighter jets from both countries patrol the area around the islands. The U.S. backs Japan's claim, and Secretary Kerry sent a pointed message to China today that the U.S. will stick to its obligations and come to Japan's defense in a dispute over the islands.


KERRY: And as President Obama has reaffirmed, our treaty commitments to Japan's security remains ironclad and covers all territories under Japan's administration.

NORTHAM: The agreement comes one day before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to meet with President Obama in Washington. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.