U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis plans to visit Japan and South Korea in early February in a move to show that the administration of President Donald Trump attaches importance to Asia, government officials said Tuesday.
Mattis is expected to be the first Cabinet member of the Trump administration to visit Japan since the Republican businessman’s inauguration on Friday.
In Tokyo, the new Pentagon chief plans to meet with Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to the officials.
Mattis and Inada are likely to reaffirm the importance of maintaining the robust alliance between Tokyo and Washington, and affirm the view that U.S. engagement is vital in ensuring stability in the Asia-Pacific region, they said.
The two sides are expected to exchange views on China’s island construction and military buildup in disputed areas in the South China Sea and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
They are also expected to discuss a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.
In Seoul, Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo will likely discuss North Korea and the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, to South Korea, according to the officials.
China has strongly opposed the THAAD deployment, saying it could undermine its security interests and the strategic balance of the region.
Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 12, Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, said, “The Pacific theater remains a priority in my mind.”
In an apparent reference to Beijing’s assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea with no legal basis, Mattis said, “China is shedding trust along its periphery.”