US-Japan defence guidelines to specify islands' defence: report

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan and the United States will likely include an explicit reference to defence of far-flung Japanese islands in an update of security cooperation guidelines amid concerns about China's increasing military assertiveness, a Japanese newspaper reported.

The daily Yomiuri Shimbun said on Tuesday that Japan had requested the revision include a clear commitment by US forces in the event of an attack on Japanese islands. Tokyo is locked in a long-running dispute with Beijing over islets in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The allies are expected to announce their agreement over the revised guidelines later this month. US President Barack Obama is due to meet Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on April 28 for a summit.

Mr Obama has said the Japanese-controlled isles are covered by a bilateral security treaty obliging the US to defend Japan, but Washington has also made clear it does not want to get dragged into a Sino-Japanese conflict.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter reaffirmed that commitment last week in talks with Defence Minister Gen Nakatani in Tokyo.

"I also reaffirmed President Obama's July 2014 commitment to apply our security treaty to all areas under Japanese administration and our continued strong opposition to any unilateral coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control of the Senkaku Islands," Mr Carter said.

Patrol vessels and fighter jets from both Japan and China shadow each other on and off near the tiny, uninhabited islets, raising fears that a confrontation could develop into a clash.

Mr Abe is seeking to ease the constraints of the pacifist Constitution on Japan's military. Next month, parliament will be asked to enact Bills to implement a Cabinet decision to allow Japan's armed forces to aid friendly countries under attack - the biggest shift in Japanese security policy in decades.

An interim report last year said Tokyo and Washington aim to build a seamless framework to better defend Japan and extend areas of cooperation to space and cyberspace.