Trump’s defence chief Mattis eyes debut trip to Japan, South Korea next week
US President Donald Trump’s defence secretary plans to visit Japan and South Korea next week, choosing the two close US allies for his debut trip abroad as Pentagon chief, US and Japanese officials said Tuesday.
Jame Mattis is expected to be the first Cabinet member of the Trump administration to visit Japan since the Republican businessman’s inauguration as president on Friday.
In Tokyo, the new Pentagon chief plans to hold talks with Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on February 3 after paying a courtesy call on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the previous day, according to the officials.
Mattis and Inada are likely to reaffirm the importance of maintaining the robust alliance between Tokyo and Washington, and the view that US engagement is vital in ensuring stability in the Asia-Pacific region, they said.
Mattis may request that Japan increase defence spending and expand the role of the Self-Defence Forces abroad in line with his call on U.S. allies earlier this month to “carry their fair share of any kind of defence burden.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump demanded that Japan, South Korea and other US allies cover a greater share of the costs associated with stationing US forces in their countries - or else defend themselves. Japan, however, regards its nearly 75 per cent contribution as sufficient.
In the planned talks, Mattis and Inada are expected to exchange views on China’s island construction and military buildup in disputed areas in the South China Sea and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
They are also expected to discuss a plan to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.
During his planned visit to Seoul through February 4, Mattis and South Korean Defence Minister Han Min-koo are likely to discuss North Korea and the planned deployment of an advanced US missile defence system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, to South Korea, according to the officials.
China has strongly opposed the THAAD deployment, saying it could undermine its security interests and the strategic balance of the region.
Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing on January 12, Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, said: “The Pacific theatre remains a priority in my mind.”
In an apparent reference to Beijing’s assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea with no legal basis, Mattis said: “China is shedding trust along its periphery.”
On Monday, the new US administration vowed that the United States would prevent China from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea, something Chinese state media has warned would require Washington to “wage war.”
Additional reporting by Reuters