Carter looks to shore-up US-Japan military alliance

Updated 3:09 AM EST, Mon December 5, 2016
Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of US Forces Japan, greets Defense Secretary Ash Carter upon his arrival at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo on Dec. 5, 2016.
Ryan Browne/CNN
Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of US Forces Japan, greets Defense Secretary Ash Carter upon his arrival at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo on Dec. 5, 2016.

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Fears US-Japan ties may fray under Trump presidency

US has 50,000 troops stationed in Japan

(CNN) —  

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrived in Japan Monday, a visit that comes amid fears that President-elect Donald Trump might pivot away from the decades-long US-Japan security alliance and heightened concern over the North Korean threat.

“Our alliance with Japan has never been stronger,” Carter told reporters while en route to Yokota Air Base near Tokyo.

“This is a two-way street, we provide enhanced security to one another,” he added, saying he was “satisfied” with Japan’s contributions to the alliance.

Carter met upon landing with US troops, some of the 50,000 stationed in Japan, as part of a two-day visit to the long-time US ally.

He is also due to meet with his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday. Abe was the first world leader to meet with Trump after his surprise election victory last month, visiting the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York.

01:26 - Source: CNN
Japanese PM has 'great confidence' in Trump

Both men were tight-lipped about what they actually discussed during the meeting, but Abe told the press immediately after that “Mr. Trump is a leader I can have confidence in.”

Trump had voiced a skeptical view of the US-Japan relationship during his campaign, questioning the value of the alliance with Japan and saying Tokyo should pay more for the American troops stationed there.

“You know we guard Japan, now if something happens to us Japan doesn’t have to help, if somebody attacks Japan we are in World War III, folks, I hate to tell you,” Trump said during a March campaign rally in Boca Raton, Florida.

But American officials have pushed back on the notion that Japan is free-riding on the relationship, noting that the Japanese government pays $1.6 billion of the costs associated with basing US personnel there. Some analysts have said that this financial contribution means that it is actually cheaper to keep troops in Japan than it would be to station them in the US.

“Japan reimburses the United States for a large faction of those costs and that’s good too … It shows it’s a two-way street,” Carter said, adding that having American troops in Japan allowed the US the advantage of being forward-based in the region.

Despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Pentagon officials are confident that the US-Japan defense relationship will continue.