US Defense Chief Begins Trip Pledging Stronger Ties to Asia

Posted September 16th, 2012 at 11:25 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Japan, where he started a week-long visit to the region pledging to strengthen U.S. ties in Asia.

Panetta said before talks Monday with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba that the United States wants to bolster economic and military ties in order to “provide security and prosperity” to the region.

Panetta also met with Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, saying the two countries must maintain a strong partnership and that the two sides are making progress on a number of national security issues.

Officials said their talks were due to include the placement of U.S. troops in Japan and safety concerns about a U.S. aircraft being deployed in the country.

Panetta told reporters before arriving Sunday in Tokyo that he is concerned territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region may result in a conflict that could spread.

Anti-Japan protests swept across China on Sunday in the latest showing of public anger with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Both countries claim the resource-rich island chain region.

Panetta urged the countries to avoid provocative behavior.

“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence and could result in conflict, and that conflict would then have the potential of expanding,” he warned.

Panetta said he will urge China to engage in dialogue with nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The goal will be to create a format for resolving such disputes, he said.

Some of the anti-Japan protests in China have turned violent.

The Japanese Embassy says protesters have set fire to Japanese factories, sabotaged assembly lines, looted stores and broken into Japanese businesses.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Sunday deplored the violence and urged both sides to share information and maintain close contacts.