U.S. Defense Secretary Seeks to Reassure An Anxious Japan Defense Secretary Ash Carter is visiting Japan at a time when Tokyo is worried about its longstanding treaty with the U.S. and how President-elect Trump will deal with China.

U.S. Defense Secretary Seeks to Reassure An Anxious Japan

U.S. Defense Secretary Seeks to Reassure An Anxious Japan

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter is visiting Japan at a time when Tokyo is worried about its longstanding treaty with the U.S. and how President-elect Trump will deal with China.


After Donald Trump won the election, the first foreign leader to meet with him was Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Today in Tokyo, President Obama's defense secretary, Ash Carter, met with Prime Minister Abe, and this comes amid uncertainty about where this relationship will go under a Trump administration. NPR's David Welna is traveling with the defense secretary and joins us from Tokyo. David, good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what was this meeting about between Ash Carter and Japan's prime minister?

WELNA: Well, you know, this is really all about reaffirming the key relationship between these two countries that, you know, were once at war with one another and which have since been bound by a defense treaty under which the U.S. has more forces stationed here - about 50,000 - than in any other country worldwide. And it all began, in a way, with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago tomorrow. Soon after Carter arrived here yesterday, we learned that Prime Minister Abe is going to visit Pearl Harbor later this month. He'll be the first Japanese prime minister to go there, and he talked about meeting President Obama there when Abe met today with Carter. Here's what Abe said through an interpreter.


PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE: (Through interpreter) We will pray for the souls of the war dead, and on that occasion, I would like to demonstrate my determination toward the future that we must never again repeat the devastation of war.

WELNA: Now, one of Abe's top aides says the prime minister is not going to make an apology for the attack on Pearl Harbor that, in some ways, would parallel President Obama's visit here earlier this year to where the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Obama did not apologize for that act, though he did express his sympathy for the victims.

GREENE: Well, David, as you say, extraordinary history in this relationship, a relationship that has become so close and important. Is that why Prime Minister Abe went and met with Donald Trump, it sounds like, as soon as he could?

WELNA: Well, you know, I think Abe was very concerned about remarks that Trump made during the campaign suggesting that Japan was not carrying its fair share of the burden of maintaining U.S. forces stationed here. And he really wanted to sound out what Trump's true intentions were. Now, Carter's visit is all about shoring up this close but tricky military relationship before he leaves the Pentagon. And today during his meeting with Abe, Carter pointed to the centrality of that relationship and the importance of keeping it going.


SEC OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: It is critical. It is the cornerstone of security in the Asia Pacific, now and in the future, even as it has been in the past.

WELNA: But there are tensions in Japan over the U.S. military presence here, especially on the island of Okinawa where more than two-thirds of the U.S. troops are stationed. Today, Carter and Abe announced that later this month the U.S. will give back 10,000 acres of a military training ground in northern Okinawa. It's the biggest concession the U.S. has made there since giving back control of the island to Japan in 1972.

GREENE: Well, David, just briefly, I mean, if Donald Trump's concern is that Japan is not paying their share to have U.S. forces there, how much does Japan contribute?

WELNA: They pay about half the cost of keeping U.S. forces here. And there's been an agreement reached a year ago that will keep that payment in place for the next four years or so. But, you know, Japan has real reasons for worrying about its self-defense. It has North Korea working on developing nuclear weapons that could possibly target Japan. It has to worry about Russia, which has been occupying islands north of Japan. And so while I think Japan wants to see fewer U.S. forces here, it also has pressing security concerns, and Carter's visit here underscores them.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR's David Welna talking to us about the defense secretary's visit to Japan. He's in Tokyo. Thanks, David.

WELNA: Thank you.

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