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Japan says it hopes Mattis visit strengthens regional security

TOKYO Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said on Saturday she hoped a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to South Korea and Japan this week, his first overseas trip since taking office, would lead to deeper security ties.

Inada spoke at the start of talks with Mattis, who on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to its mutual defence treaty with Japan when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

“The security situation in the Asia-Pacific is becoming increasingly severe,” Inada said, adding she wanted to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.

“South Korea is an important neighbour,” Inada added. “I want to link Secretary Mattis’ visit to Japan and South Korea to the further deepening of defence cooperation among the three countries.”

Mattis said on Friday that provocations by North Korea, which is advancing its nuclear weapons and missile programs in defiance of U.N. resolutions, left no room for doubt about U.S. commitment to Japan’s defence. It was similar to the message he delivered in South Korea.

He appeared eager to reassure Japan of U.S. resolve, after a 2016 election campaign in which Donald Trump, before becoming president, suggested both South Korea and Japan were benefiting from a U.S. security umbrella without sharing enough of the costs.

Japan’s relations with South Korea have frayed in recent weeks due to a feud over wartime history, just as tensions over North Korea make cooperation between the two allies vital.

Japan has also been keen for assurances that the new administration of President Donald Trump will adhere to Washington’s commitment to defend disputed East China Sea islands that are under Japanese control but claimed also by China.

(reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie)