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International relations

Japan foreign minister eyes US trip next month to strengthen ties

Free and open Indo-Pacific agreed upon in Motegi-Blinken phone call

Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, left, and new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Source photos by Reuters)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi plans to visit the United States, possibly in mid-February, to hold discussions with his new counterpart Antony Blinken, amid China's military rise and North Korea's nuclear development, government sources said Wednesday.

In phone talks hours after Blinken won Senate confirmation as the U.S. Secretary of State, Motegi said they agreed to bolster the alliance between the two countries and achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific, sharing the view that the regional security situation is becoming increasingly severe.

"His talks with Japan, with myself, were the second following Canada. This is proof that the (President Joe) Biden administration and Secretary of State Blinken value the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and commit to the Indo-Pacific region," Motegi told reporters.

Motegi said he agreed with Blinken that preparations should begin for them to meet in person in the United States at an early date for more thorough discussions.

Japan is eager to coordinate with Blinken, who has said he will work with U.S. partners to address China and vowed to review the entire approach toward North Korea, in particular with Japan and South Korea.

Motegi told a parliamentary session he agreed with Blinken that the policy of pushing for the denuclearization of North Korea remains unchanged and that the imposition of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang to that end is extremely important.

Motegi also said he won Blinken's backing for Japan's push for a quick resolution to the issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Foreign Ministry said it will take into account the Biden administration's priority on efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic and the schedule of Japan's ongoing parliamentary session, which requires the attendance of the minister, when arranging Motegi's visit, the sources said.

In the phone talks, Motegi welcomed affirmation by the new U.S. administration that the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea fall under a bilateral security treaty, as expressed by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday and again by Blinken on Wednesday.

China claims sovereignty of the uninhabited islands, calling them Diaoyu, and has repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters around them, drawing protests from Tokyo.

In the first ministerial talks since Biden was inaugurated Jan. 20, Austin reassured his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi on Sunday that Article 5 of the security pact applies to the Senkakus, meaning Washington will defend Tokyo's interests in the event of an armed attack against the islets.

Blinken highlighted the importance of continued cooperation among the United States, Japan and South Korea and stressed Biden's pledge to strengthen U.S. alliances and engage with the world, according to the U.S. State Department.

Blinken also said on Twitter that the "U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific."

In the talks, which lasted about 30 minutes, Motegi and Blinken also affirmed close coordination involving Japan, the United States, Australia and India to tackle the challenges in their region and the international community, according to the Foreign Ministry.

They pledged to jointly address the pandemic, climate change and other global issues and to revitalize the framework of the Group of Seven major economies which includes the two countries, the ministry said.

The two agreed to closely coordinate to reach an agreement at an early date on a replacement for the cost-sharing agreement for hosting American troops in Japan, the ministry said. The current five-year agreement will expire in March.

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