SEOUL— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has started a six-day trip to East Asia for meetings on regional security and trade. Kerry will participate in a U.S.-Japan defense dialogue in Tokyo before joining President Barack Obama in Bali for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC).
Kerry arrived in Japan Wednesday one day ahead of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee.
The strategic defense dialogue in Tokyo brings together the top U.S. and Japanese diplomats and defense chiefs.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reports the two sides will discuss a schedule for revising a bilateral defense agreement by the end of 2014.
The decades-old security arrangement outlines responsibilities for U.S. and Japanese forces in defending Japan.
Tetsuo Kotani, a researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said the meeting Thursday to change that agreement marks the beginning of a new U.S.-Japan alliance.
“So far, U.S. provides offensive capabilities and Japan provides only defensive capabilities, which is called 'spear and shield' division of labor. But, from now on, Japan will possess both offensive and defensive capabilities which means Japan and the U.S. will (would) become more equal...partners,” Kotani explained.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering changing parts of Japan's pacifist constitution in the face of China's increasingly assertive claims on disputed territory.
But a more capable Japanese military would upset neighboring countries who suffered under Tokyo's World War II aggression.
Kotani said Japan wants to demonstrate it can defend itself. He said worrying instigators like China is part of the point.
“We understand some Americans are concerned about Japan's move. But, it's diplomacy, it's deterrence," Kotani noted.
Also likely to be disturbed by such actions is South Korea, Washington's other key ally in the region.
Renewed tensions between Tokyo and Seoul over history and territory have hung like a cloud over U.S. diplomacy.
In one possible sign of warming relations, South Korea's Yonhap news agency on Wednesday reported joint naval drills this week among the three nations.
Secretary Kerry will be joined in Tokyo Thursday by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who has been in Seoul for talks on adjusting the U.S. defense of South Korea from Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats.
After meeting with his South Korean counterpart Wednesday, Hagel said they agreed to consider delaying a planned transfer of war-time military control to Seoul in 2015. He also reaffirmed the commitment to strengthen combat capability and readiness throughout the Asia Pacific.
“The United States makes this commitment not only because of our mutual defense treaty but also because of our firm view that North Korea’s policies and provocations pose serious threats to regional stability and global security," Hagel said.
He added that the two sides signed a joint military strategy for creating a framework on how to deter and handle specific threats from Pyongyang, including weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
"Our particular concern is on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, its proliferation activities and its chemical weapons. There should be no doubt that any North Korean use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable," Hagel said.
After the security talks in Tokyo, Secretary of State Kerry heads to the Indonesian island of Bali Friday for regional trade talks among Asia Pacific nations.
U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum where he is expected to push for progress on a regional free trade deal.
Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involve 12 countries from Australia to Southeast Asia to the Americas.
Youmi Kim, a producer at VOA's Seoul bureau contributed to this report