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Japan, US agree to increase military cooperation

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2nd-R) and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (R) stand with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (2nd-L) and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodero (L), after a meeting at the State Department, in Washington, DC, on August 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Japan and the United States have agreed to increase their military cooperation in an attempt to counter the perceived threat from North Korea, officials have announced.

The agreement came during a meeting to discuss North Korea between Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono and their American counterparts, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

Japanese Defense Minister Onodera said after the meeting, “For this threat of North Korea, at this meeting, we agreed to increase the pressure and to strengthen the alliance capability.”

“In light of the threat of North Korea, the four of us confirmed the importance of the unwavering US commitment to extended deterrence,” he added.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said, “The United States remains committed to deploying its most advanced capabilities to Japan,” and that, “Japan intends to expand its role in the alliance and augment its defense capabilities.”

According to the statement, the four ministers called on the international community to “comprehensively and thoroughly implement” UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea so as to force it to change course.

The United States and its allies in East Asia have ratcheted up their rhetoric against North Korea in the recent weeks following repeated North Korean missile tests. Tensions particularly increased with mutual threats of a military attack between Washington and Pyongyang.

Last week, US President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with American “fire and fury,” and later doubled down on his threat, saying the military option against North Korea was “locked and loaded.” North Korea reacted by preparing a plan to fire missiles at an area near the American Pacific territory of Guam, which is about 3,200 kilometers from the North Korean capital.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 15, 2017. (Via AFP)

While North Korea later “postponed” that missile strike, the exchange of threats with the US significantly raised fears of an imminent war on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan and South Korea, which are North Korea’s regional adversaries, took precautionary measures to defend themselves against potential missile strikes.

Japan and the US also launched joint live-fire drills on a northern Japanese island last week. More than 2,000 US Marines plus some 1,500 Japanese troops are participating in the 18-day maneuvers, which kicked off in the Eniwa area on Hokkaido Island.

Drills with South Korea ‘to go ahead’

Meanwhile, the US has also planned joint drills with South Korea.

Those drills have drawn criticism from China and North Korea, which have called for the plan to be shelved.

But Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday that the exercises with South Korea would go ahead according to plan.

The drill, known as Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, will be conducted in South Korea. Much of it involves computer-based simulations.

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