By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
TOKYO, November 4, 2015 — Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. met with Japanese leaders here today to discuss freedom of navigation, changes to the U.S.-Japan alliance and threats and opportunities in the region.
Dunford met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, State Minister of Defense Kenjo Wakamiya and Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the chief of defense, during a round of visits.
“We talked about the Pacific, we talked about their assessment of the challenges in Asia,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview following the meetings. “Frankly, they line up pretty well with how we see it.”
Freedom of Navigation
Dunford said he discussed the issue of freedom of navigation with Prime Minister Abe. The general referred to last week’s passage of the USS Lassen within 12 miles of Subi Reef -- an artificial island China has built in the Spratly archipelago.
The passage, the chairman said, “was not provocative. We made it very clear that the Global Commons is accessible to everybody in accordance to international laws.”
Dunford added, “The Japanese support what we did and they believe what we did is important. They believe we ought to continue to do that.”
The chairman said he and the Japanese leaders also discussed the challenges posed by China, Russia and North Korea.
The threats are pushing Japan to more closely cooperate with others in the region, Dunford said, adding that he dug deep in discussing Japan’s trilateral relationships. These are the United States, Japan and Australia; the U.S., Japan and the Philippines and the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
His meeting with Japanese leaders was the first since Japan passed legislation in September that will allow the country to play a greater role in global security affairs.
“Clearly everyone recognizes that we had a very good relationship with the Japanese before this,” Dunford said. “But this will open up possibilities for more integration in areas that we were proscribed from actually dealing with them in the past.”
The legislation will take effect in the spring and the chairman believes it will allow U.S. and Japanese troops to take their cooperation to new levels.
Alliance’s Importance on the Rise
Kawano hosted a full-honors arrival ceremony at the defense ministry for Dunford. The Japanese admiral told the chairman he wanted to deepen the military-to-military relationship between the two countries.
“The situation in the Asia-Pacific region is severe and that is why the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance is increasing,” Kawano said through an interpreter at the start of the meeting with the general.
“I believe this alliance will contribute to maintaining peace and stability through the region,” he said. “So we would like to make the effort to contribute to the peace and stability not only in this region, but throughout the world.”
Also at the meeting, Dunford said this visit, just a month into his term as chairman, reflects of the importance the United States places on the alliance.
“We have had a relationship with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces for many years, but I don’t think it has ever been more important than it is today,” the chairman said.
There are many challenges in the region, he said, and Japan and the United States must work together to overcome them. But, Dunford added, “there are also opportunities, and those are based on the strength of our alliance.”
Dunford said he was pleased with the overall state of U.S. relations in Northwest Asia. Before coming to Japan, he visited South Korea for the annual Military Committee Meeting.
“My perspective on the trip … is that the relationships at every level were really in pretty good shape,” he said. “The amount of engagement that we have in the Pacific … is unprecedented.”