U.S. officials revealed on Thursday that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will be traveling to Japan and China this weekend, his third trip to Asia in the past 11 months, just as territorial disputes between the two countries are at the highest they’ve ever been. Panetta will be meeting with Satoshi Morimoto, Japan’s Defense Minister, as well as Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little has said that a range of topics will be discussed as the U.S. looks to reaffirm its alliance with Japan for security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
While one would expect the topic of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the escalating threats between China and Japan to take the center stage, it looks like the main focus will once again be the Pentagon’s addressing of safety concerns over the MV-22 Osprey aircraft. The tilt-rotor planes have been set to replace aging transport helicopters at the U.S. Military base in Okinawa, however their deployment has repeatedly delayed due to large-scale Japanese protest over their safety following a series of accidents. The Pentagon says it has extensively shown the Japanese government that the aircrafts are safe, yet there is still no timeline set for when the vehicles will start being used.
After Japan, Panetta will travel to China to meet with Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie, in order to continue establishing military-to-military ties. Press secretary Little says they hope the cordial visit will advance the goals of transparency in a viable relationship with the Chinese military. It’s hard to believe the U.S. Defense Secretary will be visit both of these countries and the island dispute won’t play some significant role in discussions. Maybe the Pentagon is just sugar-coating the purpose of the visit and we’ll find out what was really discussed next week sometime. New Zealand will be Panetta’s final stop on his trip, so at least part of his time in Asia won’t dealing with arguing neighbors.