June 20, 2014 5:13 am JST

Japan defense chief to update US on expanded defense role

TOKYO -- The Japanese defense minister will visit the U.S. as soon as early July to brief his counterpart on Tokyo's plans to play a larger role in a bilateral security framework.

     This will mark Itsunori Onodera's first U.S. trip since visiting Hawaii last July. He will meet with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to explain Japan's move to reinterpret its pacifist constitution and confirm that the resulting changes will be reflected in the guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation, which will be revised at year-end.

     The two sides will also affirm their common interest of keeping China in check, especially in light of its provocations in the East China Sea.

     Hagel and Onodera met at the end of May during the Asia Security Summit in Singapore. Japan's defense chief apparently decided he should travel to the U.S. before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamps his cabinet, which could take place as early as this summer.

     The ruling coalition's panel looking into the legal framework governing military activity is in final discussions on adopting a new constitutional interpretation to allow Japan to come to the defense of allies under attack. Once an agreement is reached between the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the cabinet will formally endorse the policy.

     Onodera will then travel to the U.S. to deliver the news that Washington can expect a larger military role from Japan under the new government stance.

     Chinese fighter aircraft again came unusually close to Japanese Self-Defenses Force planes last week in an apparent attempt at provocation. The country is also flexing its military muscles in the South China Sea, ratcheting up tensions with Vietnam and the Philippines.

     Onodera and Hagel will reaffirm that attempts to change the status quo through the use of force will not be tolerated.