NEW DELHI, April 27 (UPI) -- Defense cooperation will be a priority during Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba's visit to India.
Gemba is to arrive in New Delhi Sunday accompanied by a high-profile delegation that includes several other Cabinet ministers and senior officials.
Japan's defense concerns have been shifting. Issues rising in importance for Tokyo include the status of neighboring North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program and China's rising maritime military presence in East Asia.
That was exemplified by China's recent sea trials of its first aircraft carrier, the refurbished Soviet navy Varyag. The vessel, an unfinished Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, was purchased from Ukraine in 1998 and towed to China, where the vessel underwent a massive refurbishment.
Japan has unresolved territorial issues with both China and Russia.
Tokyo is contesting with Beijing the sovereignty of the uninhabited islands of the Senkaku-shoto (Diaoyu Tai) archipelago. To the north Tokyo is also in contention with the Russian Federation over the status of four islands of the Kurils.
India has territorial issues with China as well, having fought a brief but violent conflict with China in 1962 over disputed borders in the Himalayas.
A symbol of the growing defense ties between India and Japan, in June the Japanese and Indian navies have their annual bilateral naval exercises and, beginning next year, Japanese naval units will participate in the Malabar naval exercises along with U.S. and Indian navies off Okinawa, in their fifth year of participation.
In 2007 China objected to the maritime maneuvers but Gemba's visit indicates Tokyo's growing comfort with the Indian defense forces, as well as increased strategic convergence, the Indian Times News Network news agency reported Friday.
Heightening the changing strategic picture in the Western Pacific, Tokyo recently accomplished one of its strategic goals to reduce the U.S. Marines presence on Okinawa.
The Pentagon had agreed to shift 9,000 Marines from the island to Guam. Under the new agreement, about 10,000 Marines will remain on Okinawa.
Gemba said Japan wanted to "reduce the burden on Okinawa," adding, "I think we have made some progress and this plan offers specific and forward-looking action."
Complicating the picture, Japan's pacifist constitution's Article 9 prohibits Japan from maintaining a military and for settling disputes through force, labeling Japan's military as a "self defense force," with soldiers, sailors and airmen as "members." Accordingly, military cooperation initiatives are treated carefully in Tokyo.