Tokyo concerned over Trump cancellation of war games

The drills and the US military stationed in South Korea play a vital role in East Asia's security, Japan defence minister says

epa06781685 Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (C) leaves a trilateral meeting with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (L), and South Korean National Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) on the sidelines of a International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) 17th Asia Security Summit in Singapore, 03 June 2018. The IISS Asia Security Summit is an annual gathering of defense officials in the Asia-Pacific region and is dubbed the Shangri-La Dialogue in honor of the hotel where the event is held. The summit will be held from 01 to 03 June 2018.  EPA/WALLACE WOON

US military drills with South Korea on the peninsula and Washington's troop presence there are "vital" for regional security, Japan said on Wednesday, raising concerns after US President Donald Trump said the manoeuvres would be halted.

"The drills and the US military stationed in South Korea play a vital role in East Asia's security," Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said when asked about Mr Trump's surprise announcement.

"I hope to share this recognition between Japan and the US, or among Japan, US and South Korea," he told reporters.

Mr Trump surprised observers on Tuesday, after meeting North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, by saying the regular joint US-South Korea military exercises would be halted as Washington fleshes out a deal with Pyongyang.

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"We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should," Mr Trump said.

"Plus, I think it's very provocative," he said, saying that "at some point" he wanted to withdraw US troops from the South, without suggesting a timeline.

Security experts warn that a reduction in US military presence in East Asia would alter the balance of power in the region as China engages in a rapid military build-up.

Mr Onodera said Japan's policy remained unchanged after the Singapore summit.

"There is no change in our policy of putting pressure" on North Korea, he said, adding that Japan wanted concrete action from the North over its nuclear and missile ambitions, as well as on the issue of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.

Also on Wednesday Japan said it is prepared to help shoulder some of the initial costs of North Korea's denuclearisation only after the International Atomic Energy Agency restarts inspections.

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