F-35s for Japan

China let the world know yesterday that it tested its very own stealth fighter jet. Defense Secretary Robert Gates let the world know today that Japan should invest in its own state-of-the-art aircraft. He said Tokyo would bump itself up to a “fifth-general capability” if it bought a fleet of F-35s from Lockheed Martin to replace its current F-4s. Japan already said it was interested in the F-22, but there’s an export ban on that stealth aircraft.

Gates also addressed the apparent divide between China’s military and civilian stances. When the defense secretary asked President Hu Jintao yesterday about the fighter jet’s test flight, Hu, along with the rest of the civilians in the room, didn’t appear to know what Gates was talking about. Gates said today that he doesn’t think there is a rift and didn't imply there was one: “What came across to me is that both the civilian and the military leadership seem determined to carry this relationship further, and build upon it.”

And commenting on another potential threat, Gates said today that North Korea is making progress in its weapons-development efforts. The secretary of defense thinks that Pyongyang could have ICBMs in its arsenal within the next five years, which means North Korea could in theory strike U.S. territory with nuclear warheads within five years. “North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States,” he commented.

Joe Biden is on the move. Fresh off a trip to Afghanistan where he met with President Hamid Karzai, the vice president made his way to Pakistan today for meetings with the country’s top civilian and military officials, including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The intent of the meetings is nothing new—Biden will be discussing ways to improve the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and the ongoing fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said that Islamabad would take care of the extremist problem on its own. He stressed that Pakistan would determine when the time was right to conduct military action against extremists in North Waziristan, and that putting U.S. forces on the ground in the region “is not going to happen, and it’s not needed.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down today with Sultan Qaboos of Oman and held a town hall meeting with civic leaders, a staple of her trip so far. She praised the country for the progress it has made in the last forty years. Oman, she said, “has achieved stability and home and peace with” its neighborhood, also citing progress made on education for women.

Besides encouraging cooperation and dialogue, Clinton is hoping to bolster support for Iraq’s government during her trip to the Gulf, stressing the country’s importance when it comes to things like balancing Iran. She’ll head to Qatar tomorrow to attend the Forum for the Future.