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US to defend Japan from cyberattack under security pact

From left, Japan's Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan are pictured at a press conference in Washington on April 19, 2019. (Kyodo)

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- Japan and the United States agreed Friday that Washington's commitment to defend Tokyo under the bilateral security treaty extends to cyberattacks, making it the first such affirmation between the two allies.

The foreign and defense ministers of the two countries underscored that the protection of Japan provided by the United States extends to major cyberattacks on nuclear power plants and Self-Defense Forces facilities, for example.

The nations pledged to strengthen defense cooperation in outer space, cyber and electronic warfare in response to China and Russia's efforts to boost their respective capabilities in those areas.

"The ministers affirmed that international law applies in cyberspace and that a cyberattack could, in certain circumstances, constitute an armed attack for the purposes of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty," they said in a joint statement issued after their meeting in Washington.

The ministers also underscored their commitment to lead international efforts in fully enforcing U.N. sanctions on North Korea -- including combating illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum and sales of coal and other banned commodities -- to compel Pyongyang to denuclearize.

Speaking at a joint news conference after the meeting, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya requested cooperation from the United States in investigating the crash of an F-35A fighter in the Pacific during a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force exercise earlier this month.

Despite the accident, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan expressed appreciation for Japan's continued procurement of F-35s and other U.S.-built assets as part of efforts to promote interoperability.

The so-called two-plus-two security meeting, the first since August 2017, also brought together Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The four ministers affirmed coordination in cross-domain operations involving the conventional ground, sea and air arenas, as well as priority areas of space, cyberspace and on the electromagnetic spectrum that enables the disruption of radio waves and the jamming of global positioning systems.

"The ministers highlighted the need to address these challenges jointly to ensure the alliance's superiority in a contingency and to safeguard our institutions and rules-based order during peacetime," the statement said.

Shanahan referred to the threat from China and Russia in outer space and cyberspace, emerging domains that carry enormous potential but also significant vulnerabilities.

"We are not sitting back while our Chinese and Russian counterparts or competitors aim to disrupt and weaponize them," he said.

Pompeo said, "We stressed the need to work together to protect classified information, maintain technological superiority and preserve our shared defense and economic advantages from theft and exploitation."

Iwaya said the two sides agreed to step up cooperation in space-related capabilities, including space situational awareness capability enhancement.

Despite the breakdown of a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February, the ministers welcomed Washington's diplomatic efforts to achieve what it says will be the final and fully verified denuclearization of Pyongyang, according to the statement.

The collapse of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi has increased uncertainties over security in Northeast Asia. North Korea's official media reported a test-firing on Wednesday of what it called a new "tactical guided weapon," while Kim plans to travel to Vladivostok in late April for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Japanese and U.S. ministers underscored the importance of promoting trilateral security cooperation with South Korea.

They also agreed to push Pyongyang to deliver an immediate resolution of the issue of Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

They reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Japan but claimed by China, and that the two allies oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan's administration of the islands.

Similarly, the ministers expressed strong opposition to unilateral coercive attempts to alter the status quo in the South China Sea, a veiled criticism of Beijing's militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the strategic waterway.

The ministers vowed to step up coordination -- both bilaterally and multilaterally -- in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to the statement, amid China's rising clout and assertiveness in the region.

"The Japan-U.S. alliance is now the cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific region," Kono said. "Both Japan and the United States will conduct joint trainings and capability buildings and others with partner countries in order to jointly expand their presence in the region."

While hailing trilateral cooperation involving Japan, the United States and Australia in assisting Southeast Asian and Pacific island states in capacity building, the ministers welcomed the increased presence of Britain and France in the Indo-Pacific region in support of freedom of navigation, port calls and countering ship-to-ship transfers.

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