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Japan FM Motegi, new US secretary of state Blinken vow to boost alliance

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi meets the press in Tokyo on Jan. 27, 2021, after holding telephone talks with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Wednesday he and new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific, sharing the view that the regional security situation is becoming increasingly severe.

    In phone talks hours after Blinken won Senate confirmation as the chief U.S. diplomat, 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.

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

    "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.

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

    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," amid China's maritime assertiveness in the region.

    He later 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.

    It marked the second ministerial talks between Tokyo and Washington since Biden took office on Jan. 20.

    Speaking by phone on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reassured his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi that Article 5 of the bilateral security pact applies to the Senkakus, meaning Washington will defend Tokyo's interests in the event of an armed attack against the islets.

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

    In the talks, which lasted about 30 minutes, they 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 also pledged to jointly address the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and other global issues and to revitalize the framework of the Group of Seven major economies including the two countries, the ministry said.

    Blinken has advocated working with U.S. partners against China and vowed to review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea to get the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear weapons.

    Motegi 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 two also 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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