President Obama on Monday reaffirmed the United States’ defense commitment to Japan, calling the relationship the “linchpin” of security in the Far East.
Appearing with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda after their bilateral meeting, Obama hailed the recent agreement to relocate 9,000 U.S. Marines off Okinawa to other bases in the Western Pacific, saying the move will help allay concerns of Japanese residents of the island.
Obama pledged that the move will not compromise the long-time alliance at a time when the United States is rebalancing its commitment to Asia to counter China’s influence and renewed nuclear threats from North Korea.
“We think we’ve found an effective mechanism to move this process forward in a way that is respectful of the situation in Okinawa, the views of residents there,” Obama said during a joint news conference in the East Room, “but also is able to optimize the defense cooperation between our two countries and the alliance that’s the linchpin not just of our own security but also security in the region as a whole.”
The Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa is seen as critical to counterbalancing China’s aggression in the region, but the noisy base has caused tension with Japanese residents in the crowded urban area.
U.S. and Japan officials have been negotiating a relocation of some troops and the base for years. Some of the 9,000 Marines likely will be relocated to Guam, but the two sides still have not settled on a new location for the airbase inside Japan.
Noda, who was making his first visit to Washington since taking power seven months ago, said that he and Obama were “able to confirm that our two countries will cooperate in the context of a deepening bilateral alliance towards the realization of the optimum U.S. force posture in the region and the reduction of burden on Okinawa.”