* Kerry: U.S. "neither recognizes nor accepts" China zone
* No mention made of visit to controversial war shrine
* Japanese minister says Tokyo will work on South Korea ties
By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON, Feb 7 The United States on Friday
stressed its commitment to the defense of Japan and stability in
the Asia-Pacific region against a backdrop of increasingly
assertive territorial claims by China.
After a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio
Kishida, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the importance
of the U.S.-Japan relationship, which both countries say remains
robust in spite of a bump after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe visited a controversial war shrine in December.
Kerry said the United States and Japan were committed to
closer security collaboration and stressed the long-standing
U.S. commitment to defend Japan if it is attacked.
"I ... underscored that the United States remains as
committed as ever to upholding our treaty obligations with our
Japanese allies," Kerry told reporters after talks with Kishida.
"That includes with respect to the East China Sea," Kerry
said. He reiterated that Washington "neither recognizes nor
accepts" an air-defense zone China has declared in the region
that it disputes with Japan and other Asia nations. Kerry also
said the United States would not change how it conducts
"We are deeply committed to maintaining the prosperity and
the stability in the Asia-Pacific," Kerry said.
The United States flew B-52 bombers through the Chinese air
defense zone after it was declared last year. U.S. officials
have warned that any declaration by Beijing of another such zone
in the South China Sea could result in changes to U.S. military
deployments in the region.
Kerry said he planned to visit China and other Asia
countries next week.
Kishida's Washington visit comes at a time of growing
concerns in Tokyo as to the long-term ability and willingness of
the United States to defend Japan in spite of President Barack
Obama's stated policy of rebalancing America's military and
economic focus toward Asia in response to China's growing clout.
Such concerns have added momentum to Abe's drive to beef up
Japan's air and naval forces while loosening constitutional
limits on action that its military can take abroad.
After an agreement drawn up by Kerry and Kishida and their
countries' defense ministers last year, the allies have begun
revising guidelines on defense cooperation last updated in 1997,
aiming to complete a revamp by the end of this year.
Washington has long encouraged Tokyo to take a greater share
of the bilateral security burden, but U.S. officials have not
made clear if they want Japan to acquire greater offensive
Kerry made no mention of Abe's controversial visit to
Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine, which prompted an expression of
disappointment from Washington and chilled Tokyo's often thorny
ties with the other key U.S. ally in North Asia, South Korea.
Kishida said there were "difficult issues" between Tokyo and
Seoul, but pledged to try to improve ties.
"The Republic of Korea is an important neighbor for Japan,
so going forward, we will make tenacious efforts to build our
cooperative relationship with the Republic of Korea from a broad
perspective," he told the joint briefing with Kerry.
Amid competing claims by Seoul and Tokyo for Obama's time
during a planned visit to Asia in April, Kishida said the U.S.
president was being invited for a state visit.
According to Japanese media, officials in Tokyo hope the
ceremonial aspect of such a visit, rather than an official or
working trip, would emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Japan
alliance and ease the mood over Abe's shrine visit.
Kerry and Kishida emphasized the importance of the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral trade pact Obama
has been hoping can be concluded by the time of his Asia trip.
Prospects for that have dimmed due to opposition from within
Obama's own Democratic Party to granting him fast-track Trade
Promotion Authority given concerns that the TPP could cost
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Matt
Spetalnick; Editing by Will Dunham and Dan Grebler)