Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the US has “enduring and important” interests in the Asia-Pacific region amid anxieties over President-elect Donald Trump’s call for the withdrawal of American forces from the region unless Washington’s allies pay more.
Asia alliances have been a top priority for the administration of President Barack Obama, but Republican Trump, who defeated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the November 8 election, has a different approach and wants Japan and South Korea to help cover defense costs to a greater extent.
“The United States has important interests in this region, and therefore because many of those interests are shared with Japan, we have a common interest in strengthening the capabilities of the alliance,” Carter told reporters in Japan on Wednesday.
Carter said he could not speak on behalf of Trump’s incoming administration, but added he knew and respected James Mattis, a retired Marine general Trump picked to run the Pentagon.
“I am committed to an orderly handover of responsibilities in the Department of Defense so that my successor can hit the ground running,” he said.
“American interests in this region are enduring and our alliance provides many benefits to both our sides.”
In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Tuesday, Carter said that the US would, later this month, turn over more than 4,000 hectares (40 square kilometers) of land on the island of Okinawa, which has been under US control since the Second World War.
This is the largest return of the US-occupied territories since 1972, when Washington gave back a large chunk of Okinawa to Japan.
“We share your objective of completing the transfer by December 22,” Carter told Abe.
Located inside a massive US military base complex on the Pacific island, the land is part of a territory officially known as the Northern Training Area.