US bases essential to Japan's security: Abe

TOKYO • US military bases remain essential to Japan's security, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said in an interview, as he brushed off comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that Tokyo should be left to defend itself.

Japan's alliance with Washington has been the bedrock of its defence since the end of World War II, and the country still hosts 47,000 US troops.

"I cannot conceive of any situation within the foreseeable future when the US presence wouldn't be necessary," Mr Abe told The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo on Tuesday.

He has vowed to boost Japan's military, but he sidestepped a question on whether Japan would play a bigger role in its own defence, saying Tokyo would strengthen its relationship with Washington.

"By strengthening the Japan-US alliance, we'll strengthen deterrence and that will contribute to peace and stability in the region, not just Japan," Mr Abe added.

He also said he wanted to push through a huge trans-Pacific trade deal that has been attacked by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

"This is the birth of an economic zone that has 40 per cent of the world's (gross domestic product), one that is protected by free and fair rules," Mr Abe said, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive multi-nation deal, of which Japan and the US are key players.

Mr Abe's comments come after Mr Trump said that US alliances with countries such as Japan and South Korea cost too much to maintain and that they should be responsible for their own defence - unless they bear more of the cost burden.

Mr Trump has also suggested that they could develop their own nuclear weapons, a stance particularly controversial in Japan, which is the only country to have been attacked with atomic bombs.

Asked at a press conference last week about comments by Mr Trump, Mr Abe said that the alliance with the US remains strong and will not change after the US presidential election in November, comments he reiterated in the interview.

"No matter who will be the next president, the Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'US bases essential to Japan's security: Abe'. Print Edition | Subscribe