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From left: Japan’s Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting US secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan arrive for a press conference after a meeting at the US Department of State on April 19, 2019 in Washington. Photo: AFP

US promises to defend Japan from cyberattacks under security pact

  • Nations also pledged to strengthen cooperation in space and electronic warfare in response to China and Russia’s efforts to boost capabilities in those areas

Japan and the United States agreed on Friday that Washington’s commitment to defend Tokyo under the bilateral security treaty extends to cyberattacks, making it the first such affirmation between the two allies.

The foreign and defence ministers of the two countries underscored that the protection of Japan provided by the United States extends to major cyberattacks on nuclear power plants and Self-Defence Forces facilities, for example.

A Japan Air Self-Defence Force F-35A stealth fighter. Photo: Kyodo/Reuters

The nations pledged to strengthen defence cooperation in outer space, cyber and electronic warfare in response to China and Russia’s efforts to boost their respective capabilities in those areas.

“The ministers affirmed that international law applies in cyberspace and that a cyberattack could, in certain circumstances, constitute an armed attack for the purposes of Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty,” they said in a joint statement issued after a meeting in Washington.

The ministers also underscored their commitment to lead international efforts in enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea – including combating illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum and sales of coal and other banned commodities – to compel Pyongyang to denuclearise.

Speaking at a joint news conference after the meeting, Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya requested cooperation from the US in investigating the crash of an F-35A fighter in the Pacific during a Japanese Air Self-Defence Force exercise earlier this month.

Despite the accident, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan expressed appreciation for Japan buying F-35s and other US-built assets as part of efforts to promote interoperability.

The so-called two-plus-two security meeting, the first since August 2017, also brought together Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The ministers meeting at the Pentagon on April 19, 2019. Photo: AP

The four ministers affirmed coordination in cross-domain operations involving the conventional ground, sea and air arenas, as well as priority areas of space, cyberspace and on the electromagnetic spectrum that enables the disruption of radio waves and the jamming of global positioning systems.

“The ministers highlighted the need to address these challenges jointly to ensure the alliance’s superiority in a contingency and to safeguard our institutions and rules-based order during peacetime,” the statement said.

Shanahan referred to the perceived threats from China and Russia in outer space and cyberspace, emerging domains that carry enormous potential but also significant vulnerabilities.

“We are not sitting back while our Chinese and Russian counterparts or competitors aim to disrupt and weaponise them,” he said.

From left: Japan’s Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting US secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan at a joint press conference at the US State Department in Washington on April 19, 2019. Photo: EPA

Pompeo said the group “stressed the need to work together to protect classified information, maintain technological superiority and preserve our shared defence and economic advantages from theft and exploitation”.

The ministers welcomed Washington’s diplomatic efforts to achieve what it says will be the final and fully verified denuclearisation of Pyongyang, according to the statement.

North Korea’s official media reported a test-firing on Wednesday of what it called a new “tactical guided weapon”.

Leader Kim Jong-un plans to travel to Vladivostok in late April for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Japanese and US ministers underscored the importance of promoting trilateral security cooperation with South Korea.

They also agreed to push Pyongyang to deliver an immediate resolution of the issue of Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

They reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-US security treaty applies to the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkakus by Tokyo, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing, and that the two allies oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the islands.

The Diaoyu Islands in September 2012. Photo: Kyodo

Similarly, the ministers expressed strong opposition to unilateral attempts to alter the status quo in the South China Sea, a veiled criticism of Beijing’s militarisation of disputed areas.

The ministers vowed to step up coordination – both bilaterally and multilaterally – in promoting a free and open Asia-Pacific, according to the statement.

“The Japan-US alliance is now the cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific region,” Kono said. “Japan and the United States will conduct joint trainings and capability buildings and others with partner countries in order to jointly expand their presence in the region.”

While hailing trilateral cooperation involving Japan, the United States and Australia in assisting Southeast Asian and Pacific island states in capacity building, the ministers welcomed the increased presence of Britain and France in the region.