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International relations

Japan, US vow to cooperate in space, cyber domains

Foreign and defense ministers affirm that security treaty covers new threats

U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, right, speaks during a news conference in Washington with, from left, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.   © AP

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- Japan and the United States agreed Friday to strengthen defense cooperation in space, cyber and electronic warfare in a veiled response to China and Russia for their drives to boost capabilities in such new domains.

The foreign and defense ministers of the two allies affirmed coordination in cross-domain operations involving conventional domains of ground, sea and air, as well as priority areas of space, cyberspace and electromagnetic waves that disrupt radios, jam global positioning systems and paralyze units, they said in a joint statement issued after a meeting in Washington.

The ministers also underscored their commitment to lead international efforts in fully enforcing U.N. 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 denuclearize, the statement said.

They reaffirmed the Japan-U.S. security treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Japan but claimed by China, and that the two allies oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan's administration of the islands.

Similarly, the ministers expressed strong opposition to unilateral coercive attempts to alter the status quo in the South China Sea, a veiled criticism of China's militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the strategic waterway.

The so-called two-plus-two security talks were held four months after Japan adopted a new 10-year defense policy and a new five-year midterm defense buildup program, both of which are intended to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The meeting brought together Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. It marked the first two-plus-two meeting since August 2017.

"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," it said.

Recognizing that malicious cyber activity presents a rising threat to the security of Japan and the United States, the ministers affirmed international law applies in cyberspace and that a cyberattack could, in certain circumstances, constitute an armed attack for the purposes of the bilateral security treaty.

Despite the breakdown of a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February, the ministers welcomed Washington's diplomatic efforts to achieve what it says is the final, fully verified denuclearization of Pyongyang, according to the statement.

The collapse of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi has increased uncertainties over security in Northeast Asia. North Korea's official media has reported a test-firing on Wednesday of what it called a new "tactical guided weapon," while Kim plans to travel to Vladivostok in late April for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Japanese and U.S. ministers also agreed to push Pyongyang for an immediate resolution of the issue of Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

The ministers vowed to step up coordination -- both bilaterally and multilaterally -- in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, the statement said, amid China's rising clout and assertiveness 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 Indo-Pacific region in support of freedom of navigation, port calls and countering ship-to-ship transfers.

The ministers underscored their strong determination to complete a planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture "as soon as possible."

They reaffirmed that relocating Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less-populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago is the "only solution" to address the 

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