President Trump’s Cabinet member, Defense Secretary James Mattis recently paid a trip to two Asian countries, namely South Korea and Japan. Both countries have been uncertain about the U.S. attitude towards alliances because of President Trump suggestion that they should develop their own nuclear weapons to defend themselves during his campaign. Mattis’s trip is significant for both countries because of his guarantee that the U.S. is committed to defending South Korea and Japan, and as such, will not abandon these two countries. On the other hand, the Trump administration will press the allied countries to do more rather than solely dependent on the U.S. for support
During the two-day visit to Seoul, Secretary Mattis sent a strong message of support to a key U.S. ally facing an all-encompassing domestic political crisis, which at the same time, is facing a growing threat from North Korea’s expanding nuclear and missile arsenal. In order to effectively defend South Korea, Mattis pushed to deploy an antimissile system known as THAAD, short for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, which would be used to intercept North Korea’s medium-range missiles. THAAD has been a security concern in both China and Russia which believe THAAD deployment on the Korea Peninsula will threaten the mainland’s national security interests.
As well, tensions with China have been deeply rooted in U.S.-Japan bilateral relations for ages. During the visit in Tokyo, Mattis reaffirmed the American defense commitment, specifically, Article Five of the U.S.–Japan Security Treaty applies to the Senkakus – islands that China covets and which past U.S. administrations have agreed to help defend.
However, surprisingly, when Mattis talked about the South China Sea dispute, he expressed that the military should not be the top choice, but rather, that it is the diplomats who should be carrying the ball. Mattis praised Japan as “a model of cost sharing,” but he might use the opportunity to urge the Abe administration not to lose momentum on base realignment in Okinawa, where local officials, activists, and outside agitators have sought to prevent construction of a replacement facility that would shift Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded downtown area to a safer, more remote location.
This is a reassurance trip for Mattis, who clearly explained Trump’s alliance policy with South Korea and Japan, which the U.S will not leave the Asia-Pacific region to fend for itself. But at the same time, the U.S. wants allies to do more in support of themselves instead of relying on U.S. intervention.
This trip, however, has raised China’s dissatisfaction. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang accused Mattis of jeopardizing regional stability, saying in a statement, “We urge the US to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks on the issue involving the Diaoyu islands’ sovereignty, and avoid making the issue more complicated… bringing instability to the regional situation.”
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