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FEATURE ARTICLE  

 Japan Moving Toward More Active Regional, International Role  

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 By Robert H. Williams

 

Tokyo-The recent bilateral agreement to realign U.S. forces in Japan has commanded considerable attention, especially the decision to station for the first time a nuclear carrier at a base near Tokyo.

But of greater import is a less publicized drive by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to make the Japanese military a much more potent force in a region that is being pressured by an expansionist China and periodically threatened by North Korea.

A resurgent Japan would at first blush sharply alter the balance of power in the Far East, a development that would be welcomed by the United States.

Koizumi, who recently won reelection, suggested in a speech at an air self-defense base near Tokyo that Japan's constitution, which was written by the U.S. military in 1947, should be amended to eliminate a provision that outlaws war. Instead, the clause should be rewritten to expand the international role of the self-defense force, he said.

The change would require an endorsement by Japan's legislature-the national Diet-and subsequently by a majority vote of the Japanese people.

"I will do my best to make the appropriate changes so that the self defense force's mission can be accomplished fully," he said.

Meanwhile, Hiromi Yoshida, a member of Japan's House of Councilors-the upper chamber in that nation's legislature-told National Defense that "ensuring the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region surrounding Japan is essential for the security and prosperity of Japan, itself."

On the plus side, Yoshida suggested that regional cooperation as witnessed by "economic partnerships and cooperation on transnational issues" would eventually lead to the development of an "East Asian community in the future.

"The deepening of this multi-tiered cooperation has positive implications for regional stability and prosperity, considering the diversity of the region in political values, stages of economic development, cultures and religions."

But he cautioned that "there remain elements of instability that pose obstacles to ensuring the peace and stability of the region, including the situation on the Korean peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait-issues with a direct bearing on Japan's security-and so-called transnational issues in Southeast Asia, such as terrorist attacks, sea piracy, organized crime and infectious disease." Yoshida also pointed to natural disasters in the region including the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the mega quake in Pakistan.

From these circumstances, he explained, Japan is fashioning a three-pronged foreign policy. "First, in order to build stable international relations in this region, Japan will continue to ensure deterrence against any movement that might destabilize the region, make efforts to resolve issues by diplomatic means, and exert various efforts for the consolidation of peace," Yoshida said.

Next, he suggested, Japan would "take the lead" in fostering a rising level of regional amity and cooperation. And finally, Yoshida explained, efforts would be made to make it an "open" region by "continuing and strengthening the dialogue and cooperation with countries outside the region."

Regarding the significant military build-up by China, Yoshida said, "It is true that as relations between Japan and China are becoming closer, diverse issues are springing up. To cope with those issues, both Japan and China need to stay calm, and make efforts to solve them through repeated dialogues and consultations."

With regard to North Korea's nuclear program, Yoshida observed that his government believes this regime has sufficient plutonium to produce weapons, but pointed out that the government had not "reached any definite conclusions as regards the situation of nuclear development in North Korea."

He asserted the best bet to reach a peaceful solution is diplomacy by the "six parties." Meanwhile, Yoshida said Japan would "maintain the deterrent based on the U.S.-Japan security treaty."

When asked to comment on the recent purchase of Aegis destroyer anti-ballistic missile technology and advanced, land-based Patriot missile systems, Yoshida stressed that Japan's ballistic missile defense systems "are not targeted at any particular country or region."

The improved systems feature state-of-the-art ballistic missile interceptors for both the sea and land shields, sensors to detect and chase ballistic missiles, enhanced alert radar and an upgraded command and control system, he said.

Fielding will begin in 2006 and should be completed by 2011, he predicted.

As for the future, he said the ministry of defense was seeking funding to move to the "development stage of a Japan-U.S. joint technology study with the aim of improving the capacity to cope with threats and develop a next-generation ballistic missile defense system which is capable of coping with [evolving] threats."

He said his government would continue working with the U.S. on military systems in conjunction with the Japan-U.S. security treaty and other pacts, but noted that Japan would protect its own "technical and manufacturing capability."

Japan, he mentioned, would continue to participate in efforts to thwart international terrorism. He said that maritime interdiction operations in the Indian Ocean had proven effective in denying Al Qaeda movement by sea.

Yoshida said the Japanese government was actively participating in "antiterrorist measures on multilateral, regional and bilateral levels." He said it is contributing to the development of international standards, is cooperating in the exchange of intelligence and is working with other nations "in their efforts to enhance their competence to deal with terrorism."

He pointed to support that Japan was giving less developed nations in Southeast Asia and noted that "it is also important to tackle the underlying problems which give rise to and foster terrorism."

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