PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — U.S-Japan naval cooperation is deepening, top U.S. and Japanese admirals said Monday as they met on the sidelines of the world's largest maritime exercises.
Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the head of Japan's navy, told reporters before a meeting with U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry Harris that the two navies have been sharing more information and having more personal exchanges.
The two navies have expanded their ability to operate together by participating in drills like the Rim of the Pacific exercises currently being held in Hawaii waters.
More than 25,000 military personnel from 22 nations are participating in the drills, which last through early August. Japan sent two destroyers, a helicopter, a dive unit, a submarine surveillance plane and land forces to the exercises.
Harris said cooperation between the two navies keeps improving, adding that he has personally seen the relationship evolve since he was first stationed in Japan in 1983.
"We have operated together on the high seas in real-world operations, not just in exercises, for years. And we're getting better and better," Harris said.
A July 1 decision by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet to pursue a new law that would allow Japan to help defend its allies is an example of their close relationship, Harris said.
"I think that's a bold decision, a landmark decision, and I welcome anything that would bring us even closer together — and this certainly will," Harris said.
Kawano said Japan's parliament would need to pass a law on the policy before his forces could put it into effect operationally. Naval ties will deepen further if this happens, he said.
"If Japan moves in the direction of collective self-defense, I believe the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy will have an even more cooperative relationship," Kawano said.
The policy reinterprets Japan's war-renouncing constitution to say Japan may help defend countries with which it has close ties. For example, a Japanese ship would be able to legally shoot down a North Korean missile heading for U.S. territory. Japan may not legally do this currently.
Critics in Japan say the new policy would leave the door open for Tokyo's eventual participation in conflicts such as the war in Iraq. Japanese forces have previously limited their participation in conflict zones to noncombat roles, even when joining U.N. peacekeeping activities.