Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’

Japan eyes aircraft carriers to counter North Korea, China

January 2, 2018

Concerns over N. Korea’s unpredictable regime and China’s expansionist policies have forced Japan to seek reinterpretation of parts of the constitution that ban the nation from having an offensive military capability.

Members of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force attend a ceremony for the Izumo helicopter carrier in Yokohama (Reuters/T. Hanai)

The Japanese government is considering upgrading the largest ships in the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s fleet to enable it to operate a new generation of fighter aircraft, although there are concerns at home that transforming two Izumo class warships — presently designated as helicopter destroyers — into aircraft carriers will contravene the constitutional clause on Japan not possessing offensive military capabilities.

China has expressed similar reservations, although for “historical” reasons rather than fears over Japan’s constitution. Beijing was quick to warn Tokyo to “act prudently” in the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning fighters, the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the stealth fighter, and carrying out upgrades to the Izumo and the Kaga, the only two helicopter destroyers in the Japanese navy.

Japan helicopter carrier Izumo (picture-alliance/Kyodo)The government insists the constitution does not specifically ban Japan from having aircraft carriers

Commenting on the reports, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that enhancing the capabilities of Izumo-class ships would inevitably attract the attention of Japan’s neighbors for “historical reasons” — a clear nod at the nation’s use of aircraft carriers to carry out the attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequent operations during World War II.

No aircraft carrier ban

Analysts point out that the Japanese government insists that the constitution does not specifically ban Japan from having aircraft carriers and that they should be considered defensive weapons rather than power-projection platforms.

Read more: Japan’s new drive to rewrite constitution amid North Korea threat

“Even though these ships already look very much like aircraft carriers, they are officially classified as helicopter destroyers, but the changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific region means that Tokyo believes it now needs a full flat-top capable of handling stealth fighters,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University.

“That is a major development that follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s doctrine of easing the restraints that have been put on the Japanese military since the end of the war,” he told DW.

The Japanese military believes it faces two primary threats. The most immediate is North Korea, which is becoming increasingly belligerent and unpredictable, even though it is under strong international sanctions. Those sanctions have so far not stopped the regime from developing increasingly capable long-range ballistic missiles and a growing stockpile of nuclear warheads.

The other threat is a China that is apparently bent on expanding areas of the Asia-Pacific region that it controls. Beijing has already effectively seized reefs and atolls in the South China Sea that are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei, while it has also stepped up aggressive military patrolling close to Taiwan.

Read more: Shinzo Abe’s victory: A mandate to amend Japanese constitution?

Fears over Senkaku islands

Tokyo’s biggest concern is related to the Sino-Japanese tensions over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, a group of uninhabited islets which lie half-way between Japan and China. They are administered by Tokyo but are claimed by Beijing.

Effectively undefended, Tokyo fears that Chinese troops could very quickly occupy and militarize the islands. Consequently, Japan is developing new defensive capabilities that would be used to retake the islands, with the upgraded Izumo-class ships a key part of that as F-35s would be able to provide close-in support over the territory.

Read more: Japan protests after spotting Chinese ships near disputed islets

Of the two, Kingston believes that North Korea is presently at the forefront of Tokyo’s thinking when it comes to the Izumo warships.

“Japan is clearly very anxious about the threat posed by North Korea, which fired 20 missiles in 2017,” he said. “The feeling is that Japan needs to beef up its anti-missile defenses at home, as well as have the ability to strike at targets in North Korea if there is a direct threat to Japan.

“And the argument is that an aircraft carrier that would be tasked with carrying out a pre-emptive attack on targets inside North Korea, would be acting defensively because it would be protecting Japan,” he said.

Kingston dismisses China’s objections to Japan deploying aircraft carriers.

“Japan will say — quite rightly — that it lives in a dangerous neighborhood, that it cannot continue to bury its head in the sand of unilateral pacifism and that it exists in a very different threat environment than it did in the 20th century,” he said.

Read more: Japan approves record draft defense budget amid North Korea threat

‘China cannot complain’

“China cannot complain; it is developing its own aircraft carrier capabilities and its military budget has seen double-digit growth rates for the last 20 years or so and presently stands at about three times that of Japan,” Kingston pointed out.

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, believes that the Japanese government will do everything in its power to portray any enhancement in the ships’ capabilities as defensive in nature.

“The question of ‘projection of power’ is largely a matter of semantics at this point, but the fact is that if they go ahead then the vessels will be able to launch fighter aircraft,” said Nagy, who is also a fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. “So they are walking a very fine line between defensive and offensive power.”

And that ambiguity is “going to create further tensions in the region, most notably with China,” Nagy told DW.



2018 finds Japan walking tightrope with Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing — and Trump

January 2, 2018


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U.S. President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington last Feb. 10. | BLOOMBERG


The Japan Times

JAN 2, 2018

Last month the kanji kita (north) was selected as the character best symbolizing the social issues of 2017 in Japan, as North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapon threats were a constant challenge to the nation’s security and diplomacy throughout the year.

Experts interviewed by The Japan Times agreed that this year as well, the biggest national concern will be the North Korean threat.

Pyongyang looks ready to defy international pressure and keep test-firing ballistic missiles and pursuing its nuclear arms quest in 2018.

Meanwhile Japan’s bilateral relations with the United States, South Korea and China will be heavily influenced by all the diplomatic maneuvering over North Korea.

How Tokyo walks the diplomatic tightrope between these nations and the nuclear crisis will be high on the agenda of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the experts said.

“There’s no doubt North Korea will remain the biggest concern for both Japan and the United States,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).

Kotani said the main challenge Abe faced in early 2017 was “maintaining” the Japan-U.S. alliance by securing a “good” relationship with the “unpredictable” President Donald Trump.

In fact, for Abe, maintaining the powerful military alliance with the U.S. is priority one for coping with the North Korean threat.

During Trump’s first visit to Japan as president in November, Abe gave him the red carpet treatment in a bid to build closer relations.

Abe even pledged to further boost Japan’s defense budget by reaffirming purchases of costly U.S. weapons, including anti-ballistic missile defense systems and F-35 stealth fighters.

As a first step, Abe’s Cabinet last month approved a record-high draft defense budget of ¥5.19 trillion for fiscal 2018.

In the budget, ¥700 million will be allocated for the preliminary process of buying and deploying the anti-ballistic missile Aegis Ashore system.

Anti-ballistic missile defense systems offered to Japan include Aegis Ashore

Ken Jimbo, an associate professor at Keio University and a noted security expert, argued that slapping tough economic sanctions on North Korea and building up robust defense capabilities are both essential elements in the diplomatic game to press Pyongyang to shelve its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

“Abe has said seeking dialogue for dialogue’s sake is useless. We must create a situation whereby Pyongyang is convinced that what it is doing will only bring it a negative impact,” Jimbo said.

Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, consists of radars, computers and interceptor missiles.

Japan plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore batteries by 2023 at the earliest. They will be added to Japan’s current two-layer ballistic missile defense system that includes the sea-based Aegis system on destroyers and the land-based Patriot interceptor batteries of the Ground Self-Defense Force.

However, Abe’s quest to build a powerful Japan-U.S. military alliance and bolster the Self-Defense Forces will carry risks and costs.

His fellow Liberal Democratic Party members have even proposed that Japan acquire the capability to directly strike North Korean missile bases.

The Defense Ministry is meanwhile reportedly considering remodeling the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Izumo into a full-fledged aircraft carrier with U.S.-made F-35B fighters.

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All of the plans to beef up the military may foreclose on Japan’s postwar reputation as a pacifist state.

Throughout the postwar decades, Japan maintained an exclusively defensive posture and pledged not to own any weapons designed to strike territories far from Japan.

“If … the Izumo is changed to enable landings and takeoffs of F-35Bs, the vessel can be used to refuel U.S. stealth fighters anywhere in the world at any time,” the liberal Asahi Shimbun warned in an editorial Dec. 28.

“We feel compelled to sound the alarm about the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, which seems bent on gradually enhancing and upgrading Japan’s military capabilities by using the security threats posed by China and North Korea as pretexts,” the Asahi argued.

Abe reportedly plans this year to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines, which set Japan’s basic defense policy and the number and kinds of major weapons the country plans to acquire over the next 10 years.

Whether and how drastically Abe will revise the guidelines will be the focus of hot political debate and intense public attention.

Abe is also facing diplomatic turbulence with South Korea, a key partner in coping with the North Korean threat.

Any damage to Seoul-Tokyo relations could make close cooperation in dealing with North Korea difficult and as a result benefit the hermit state.

Late last month an independent panel under the South Korean government released a report on the 2015 landmark deal between Seoul and Tokyo to settle diplomatic issues involving the “comfort women,” females who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels in the 1930s and ’40s.

The panel criticized the deal, saying it was clinched without much communication with the surviving former comfort women. South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared the agreement seriously flawed.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono responded in a statement that Tokyo “strongly demands” that Seoul stand by the deal.

The 2015 agreement clearly stated that all diplomatic issues involving the comfort women have been “finally and irreversibly” resolved.

If Seoul one-sidedly revokes the deal, bilateral relations “would be unmanageable,” Kono warned.

Meanwhile, a long-delayed summit involving Japan, China and South Korea is expected to take place in early 2018.

Whether Seoul can improve ties with Tokyo by the time of the envisioned event is likely to be another focus of diplomatic activity among the three countries this year.

Japan is facing difficult issues with China, a key ally and the main trade partner of North Korea.

China is probably the sole party capable of slapping severe economic sanctions that can critically damage the North Korean economy, the reason Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly urged Beijing to take decisive action to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

However, Sino-Japanese relations remain tense thanks to the territorial dispute over the Japan-held Senkakus Islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing has regularly sent coast guard ships in the area around the uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, since Tokyo effectively nationalized some of them in 2012.

“Japan-China relations worsened about five years ago over the Senkaku Islands. Japan has always been available for talks, and China has just started to respond,” said Kotani of JIIA.

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Senkakus Islands

Kotani, however, fears Trump’s recent official decision to label China a strategic competitor may become a diplomatic obstacle for Tokyo to improve ties with Beijing.

In the U.S. National Security Strategy published in December, Trump expressed frustration over China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea, including its military expansion in the region.

“China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there,” the report said.

Kotani speculated that the U.S. strategy may prompt Japan to toughen its diplomatic attitude toward China.

“This year, Japan will be tested in reacting to the U.S. competition policy against China,” he said.

Japan moves to host trilateral summit with South Korea and China in early April

December 31, 2017


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Japan has proposed to China and South Korea that their long-delayed trilateral summit be held in Tokyo in early April, but Beijing is withholding its response, diplomatic sources said.

Since China is reluctant to hold such a summit before the National People’s Congress in March, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has conveyed its readiness to host a three-day visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in from April 4 or April 9, the sources said Friday.

Seoul said it will try to make the necessary arrangements, they said.

The trilateral summit was last held in November 2015. Japan is scheduled to host the next one, but it has been repeatedly postponed by territorial and historical disputes.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono is expected to visit China late next month at the earliest to arrange the summit date. The government hopes to have Abe visit China after the trilateral summit and invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan by the end of 2018.

Government sources have said Abe may not attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February — despite an invitation from the Moon administration — because of Seoul’s dissatisfaction with the 2015 “comfort women” agreement. The accord was intended to permanently resolve the dispute over the girls and women forced into Japan’s military brothels before and during the war.

On Wednesday, after a South Korean government task force found flaws in the domestic process that led to the accord it signed with Japan, the Moon administration said it was unable to resolve the longtime dispute. The agreement was signed under Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who was later impeached.

Japan to refuse renegotiations — The Japanese government hit back at South Korea’s report on the issue of comfort women — Japan-South Korea accord

December 30, 2017

The Yomiuri Shimbun

By Kiyota Higa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The Japanese government hit back at South Korea’s report examining the Japan-South Korea accord on the issue of comfort women. Even if the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In calls for Japan to renegotiate the accord based on the report in the future, Japan will never agree to such a request.

Commenting on the report, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who was on a visit to Oman, clearly expressed his disappointment Wednesday, saying: “It’s quite regrettable. We are working to move toward positive bilateral relations. However, if South Korea says it does not know what the former administration did, it will be difficult for us to do anything in the future.” Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who was the foreign minister when the accord was signed, said, “The procedures for the Japan-South Korea accord were appropriate.”

When Japan and South Korea reached the agreement in 2015, Japan strongly insisted on clearly stipulating the “final and irreversible resolution of the comfort women issue” in the accord. This is because South Korea repeatedly brought up the issue in a unilateral manner in the past. Since 2015 was a milestone year that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the political decision hoping to put an end to the issue of comfort women and establish future-oriented relations with South Korea.

However, over the past two years in South Korea, understanding of the bilateral accord has not spread. Rather, there have been forces working against it. In December last year, a South Korean civil group opposing the accord installed a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Consulate in the southern South Korean city of Busan. The Moon administration has announced such plans as establishing a national memorial day for comfort women and building a “comfort women” museum. The Japanese side is increasingly concerned about the possibility of South Korea scrapping the accord, encouraged by anti-Japan public opinion, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Such developments in South Korea also cast a dark shadow over Japanese people’s view of South Korea. According to Cabinet Office surveys, the percentage of respondents who “do not feel affinity toward South Korea” significantly surpassed that of those who “do.” In addition, the number of Japanese people visiting South Korea has mostly declined since 2012.

The Japanese side will continue to ask for the South Korean government to steadily implement the accord. If the Moon administration shows a negative response, Japan will likely decline South Korea’s invitation for Abe to visit the country in line with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February 2018. Japan also is considering taking countermeasures, such as having Yasumasa Nagamine, ambassador to South Korea, temporarily return to Japan.

However, amid the increasing threat of North Korea, if the rift between Japan and South Korea further deepens, it will be to North Korea’s advantage. In reality, Japan wants to avoid a crucial confrontation with South Korea, so it will carefully consider how to deal with the country.



Japan eyes broad accord on new security pact with Australia; Turnbull visit likely in January

December 25, 2017


DEC 25, 2017

Japan and Australia are arranging for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to visit Japan in January, aiming to bolster their bilateral security cooperation by striking a broad agreement on a new pact, government sources said Monday.

The envisioned “visiting forces agreement” is aimed at facilitating joint drills amid the growing military threat from North Korea and China’s maritime assertiveness in the East and South China seas, according to the sources.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull hold bilateral talks in Manila on Nov. 13. | KYODO

The two governments hope an agreement in principle on the pact will be reached at a meeting between Turnbull and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, they said.

Japan views Australia, along with the United States and India, as a vital partner under Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy designed to counter China’s rising activities in waters in the region.

The agreement would allow the two countries to bring military equipment and ammunition onto each other’s soil more easily when the Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military conduct exercises.

In January this year, Tokyo and Canberra signed a revised acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that enables the SDF and the Australian military to supply each other with ammunition.

Unlike the similar Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the planned accord involving Australia does not presuppose a long-term stationing of the Australian military in Japan.

Japan also aims to reach a similar pact with Britain, with Tokyo and London planning to launch negotiations in the near future.

During the meeting, Abe and Turnbull are also expected to confirm their commitment to putting more pressure on North Korea in cooperation with the United States, the sources said.

Japan approves introduction of Aegis Ashore missile defense system amid North Korea threat

December 21, 2017


The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday approved the installation of two land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense systems to defend against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats, highlighted by a test of what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile last month.

The approval will allow the Defense Ministry to buy two Aegis Ashore systems to add to Japan’s current two-step missile defense system consisting of Patriot batteries and Aegis-equipped destroyers.

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 A ballistic missile interceptor is fired from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex in Kauai, Hawaii, in December 2015. REUTERS

Defense Ministry officials said the government plans to deploy the systems in two places, by 2023 at the earliest, but that the locations are yet to be decided. The cost of each system could be more than ¥100 billion, they said.

Noting that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development poses a “new level of threat” to Japan’s security, the government said in a document endorsed by the Cabinet that Japan needs “to fundamentally improve our ballistic missile defense abilities to protect our country at all times and in a sustainable manner.”

Aegis Ashore, a U.S.-made land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, is a collection of radars, computers and missiles.

Acquiring Aegis Ashore would protect the entire country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefecture, the government says. The government had also considered a different U.S. system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), but it would require six sites to cover the nation. Aegis Ashore is more cost effective, according to the Defense Ministry.

The new system would reduce the workload of the Self-Defense Forces in preparing for missile intercepts compared with the sea-based operations of Aegis destroyers, according to ministry officials.

To expedite the introduction of Aegis Ashore, the ministry plans to earmark ¥2.8 billion for information-gathering activities in the supplementary budget for the current fiscal year ending in March. It is also seeking ¥730 million in next year’s budget to cover design costs and research fees.

“We cannot say what the final costs will be, but we will move ahead (to introduce Aegis Ashore) on the fastest possible schedule, given public calls that the government should deal as swiftly and urgently as possible with the ballistic missile defense issue,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference on Tuesday.

In the ministry’s initial budgetary request for fiscal 2018 made in August, which came to a record-high ¥5.26 trillion, the ministry said it was seeking funds to introduce a new missile shield system, while leaving the actual sum unspecified.

Japan’s current missile shield comprises two layers. The first is Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers that can stop missiles in the outer atmosphere using the Aegis combat system and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. The second layer is the Air Self-Defense Force’s ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, designed to counter attacks in the lower atmosphere.

Aegis Ashore, to be equipped with newly developed Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptors, will be an addition to the two layers to defend wider areas, and will be operated by the Ground Self-Defense Force.

The government plans to start selecting areas for the facilities, but the deployment could trigger concern among residents living nearby as the system’s radars emit strong radio waves.

So far, the government is considering Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures as candidate sites, sources said.

Japan Is Building Missile Bases to Confront Rising Threat From China

December 20, 2017
Japan’s military is laying the groundwork for batteries of antiship and antiaircraft missiles in a quiet, sugar-cane-filled valley in its southwestern island chain, as it girds to confront what Tokyo views as its greatest long-term threat: China.
Japan deployed Patriot interceptor launchers at Ishigaki in February last year. Tokyo is laying the groundwork for an expanded military presence on Japan’s southwestern islands. JIJI PRESS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

ISHIGAKI, Japan—Japan’s military is laying the groundwork for batteries of antiship and antiaircraft missiles in a quiet, sugar-cane-filled valley here, as it girds to confront what Tokyo views as its greatest long-term threat: China.

Ishigaki is one of a string of subtropical islands in the far southwest of the Japanese archipelago—the closest is about 200 miles from China’s coast—that defense officials are fortifying with troop garrisons, new weapons and a radar installation.

As China becomes more powerful and assertive and North Korea builds up its nuclear arsenal, Japan is rethinking its approach to defense and moving away from the policies of strict pacifism it has followed since its defeat in World War II.


On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is set to approve an increase of around 2.5% in annual military spending, including funds for the new bases on the southern islands, as well as the country’s first cruise missiles and a new ballistic-missile defense shield.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the cruise missiles are intended to protect the islands from invasion.

Defense budgets have been growing since 2013, with Japan, one of the U.S.’s most important allies, buying advanced fighter jets, boosting surveillance capabilities and training a new amphibious troop unit.

The country still spends around half of that spent by China and one-third of the U.S. on defense relative to the size of each country’s economy. But, with the support—and prodding—of Washington, it is building one of the world’s most capable armed forces.

Ishigaki and neighboring islands are part of what China’s military calls the “first island chain,” a series of archipelagoes around China’s perimeter stretching from Russia’s Kurils to the South China Sea, where Beijing seeks naval dominance.

Authorities on Ishigaki have jurisdiction over a nearby group of tiny, uninhabited islands that Japan calls the Senkakus. They are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

In recent years China has sent progressively larger coast guard ships, some of them armed, to circle the islands. A fleet of 10 Japanese coast guard ships based in Ishigaki regularly plays cat-and-mouse with the Chinese vessels.

A Japanese military vehicle carrying units of Patriot missiles leaves a port on Ishigaki. On Friday, Japan is set to approve an increase in annual military spending, including funds for a new military base on Ishigaki.
A Japanese military vehicle carrying units of Patriot missiles leaves a port on Ishigaki. On Friday, Japan is set to approve an increase in annual military spending, including funds for a new military base on Ishigaki. PHOTO:KYODO/REUTERS

Rear Adm. Atsushi Tohyama, commander of the Ishigaki coast guard base, said Japanese ships make contact with Chinese boats by radio to avoid physical clashes. “The Chinese ships are getting bigger and more modern. In that sense, they are escalating the situation,” he said.

A spokesman for the Japanese army, known as the Ground Self-Defense Force, said the military aims to deploy 500 to 600 soldiers to Ishigaki to man the new missile installation.

In response to a request for comment on Japan’s fortification of its southern islands, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “Due to historical reasons, Japan’s military and security policies receive a high level of concern from Asian neighbors and the international community. We hope that Japan will adhere to the path of peaceful development and refrain from doing anything that would damage regional peace and stability.”

For decades, the only major military presence in the area has been U.S. bases on Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed.

Recent incidents on Okinawa in which a Japanese man was killed by a truck driven by a U.S. serviceman and a local boy was injured by a window that fell from a U.S. military helicopter have fanned criticism of the military. The U.S. has pledged to prevent recurrences of both incidents.

Plans for a military base on Ishigaki have divided the island. Here, a banner with an anti-base message stands next to sugar-cane fields.
Plans for a military base on Ishigaki have divided the island. Here, a banner with an anti-base message stands next to sugar-cane fields. PHOTO: CHIEKO TSUNEOKA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Prime Minister Abe has argued that Japan should do more to defend itself and reduce its dependency on the U.S. military. Part of that process is to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution to formally recognize Japan’s right to have a military, Mr. Abe says.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Abe’s desire for a change in the constitution would win the necessary majority backing in Parliament and then a national referendum. Many Japanese identify the country’s peaceful postwar period as closely linked to its constitution, opinion polls show.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is currently working on a constitution-revision plan to put to lawmakers.

In the meantime, Mr. Abe’s government argues that the acquisition of military hardware and construction of military bases is constitutional because it is for Japan’s defense.

Plans for the expanded military footprint on Ishigaki have divided the island’s population of around 50,000 and prompted protests. Anti-base activist Shizuo Ota says a base would make the island a target in any future conflict. “We’d be wiped out in an instant,” he says.

But Ishigaki’s mayor, Yoshitaka Nakayama, is a strong supporter. He has set a deadline of March, when he faces re-election, to pass a motion in the local assembly in support of the base construction. Half of the land is owned by the city, which needs the assembly’s permission to sell it.

“Until China becomes a country with a normal political system, we need to protect ourselves,” Mr. Nakayama said.

Write to Alastair Gale at

Japan expands missile defenses to curb North Korea threat

December 19, 2017

Tokyo has approved plans to buy US-made missile defense systems, citing North Korea’s military technology. Japanese citizens have expressed concerns that changes to its pacifist policy could drag it into other conflicts.

Japan's Self-Defense Force uses a training exercise to show how the PAC-3 surface-to-air interceptors (shown above) function. The Aegis Ashore offer a much more advanced platform to intercept North Korean rockets.Japan’s Self-Defense Force uses a training exercise to show how the PAC-3 surface-to-air interceptors (shown above) function. The Aegis Ashore offer a much more advanced platform to intercept North Korean rockets.

The Japanese government on Tuesday approved plans to expand its ballistic missile defense system with a ground-based Aegis Ashore system made by the US in a bid to curb the threat posed by North Korea’s latest developments in military technology.

“North Korea’s nuclear and missile development has become a greater and more imminent threat for Japan’s national security,” said a government statement. “We need to drastically improve our ballistic missile defense capability to protect Japan continuously and sustainably.”

Read more: Can North Korea’s elites oust Kim Jong Un?

In November, North Korea launched a new ballistic missile that reached an altitude of more than 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles), exceeding the range of Japanese interceptor missiles operating in the Sea of Japan.

Romania was one of the first countries to be equipped with the US-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system
Aegis Ashore

Romania was one of the first countries to be equipped with the US-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system

Self defense or war posturing?

Many Japanese citizens have expressed concerns that changing Japan’s pacifist policy could drag the country into international conflicts, with mass protests opposing changes to its post-World War II pledge to renounce war.

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has argued that a more active military helps preserve the peace amid an increased threat from North Korea and China’s growing status as a global power.

Read more: North Korea: From war to nuclear weapons

After the Cabinet meeting, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera sought to alleviate such concerns, saying the sole purpose of the missile defense system is to bolster the country’s defenses against an attack from Pyongchang.

“North Korea’s nuclear missile development poses a new level of threat to Japan and, as we have done in the past, we will ensure that we are able to defend ourselves with a drastic improvement in ballistic missile defense,” Onodera.

ls/jm (dpa, Reuters, AP)

In move that could alienate Japan, Tillerson says U.S. willing to talk to North Korea ‘without preconditions’ — “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk.”

December 13, 2017


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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concludes his remarks on the U.S.-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington on Tuesday. | REUTERS


Japan Times
DEC 13, 2017

In a shift that could put Washington at odds with Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to soften the United States’ approach to the North Korean crisis on Tuesday, offering to begin talks without preconditions, including its long-standing demand that Pyongyang first give up its nuclear weapons.

“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said in a speech livestreamed from the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. “Let’s just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about.”

The top U.S. diplomat’s comments struck a markedly different tone from past statements that have dismissed talks as unworkable unless the North first ditched its nuclear weapons. They also come just two weeks after Pyongyang, in what it characterized as a major “breakthrough,” test-fired a long-range missile that experts said could strike most, if not all, of the continental United States.

Tillerson said sitting down “face to face” could allow the U.S. and the North to “begin to lay out a map, a road map” for future engagement.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your (nuclear) program,” he said. “They have too much invested in it. And the president is very realistic about that as well.”

While reiterating that Washington’s ultimate goal remained the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson said the United States was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk,” but that Pyongyang must come to the table willing to make choices to change its course.

He did, however, lay down one condition, noting that there should be a “period of quiet” in which such preliminary talks could take place.

“It’s going to be tough to talk if in the middle of our talks you decide to test another device,” he said. “We need a period of quiet.”

It was unclear what this meant, but the U.S. had earlier hinted that a 60-day pause to nuclear and missile tests might be enough to kick-start early talks. Before the North tested its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, it had gone 75 days without conducting such tests, raising hopes of a fresh diplomatic opening.

Tokyo, however, may not be in the mood for talks.

Japan — especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — has been a vociferous advocate of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of using sanctions to rein in the North’s nuclear program.

Asked about Tillerson’s comments, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that Tokyo and Washington remain in “100 percent” agreement on the pressure stance.

But experts said it appeared that Japan had not been consulted before Tillerson’s remarks.

“This has surely blindsided the Abe administration, which noted there was no point for talks, unless there was a deep and meaningful commitment to denuclearization,” said J. Berkshire Miller, a senior visiting fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.

“Throw on top of this the potential suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and the pro-dialogue push from Seoul, Beijing and Moscow — and it appears that the Abe administration is being left out on a branch suddenly — a development which could do significant damage to the U.S.-Japan alliance, especially around questions of U.S. credibility and extended deterrence,” Miller added.

Washington has maintained that its commitment to defending its allies in Japan and South Korea remains “ironclad,” but North Korea’s rapid progress toward building a credible nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the U.S. has stoked concern in Tokyo and Seoul.

In a separate sign that Washington could be laying the groundwork for seizing the diplomatic initiative with Pyongyang, the top U.S. official for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, met with Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, for talks in Tokyo.

Yun was also expected to meet Thursday with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials in Chiang Mai, Thailand, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported late Tuesday, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

Tillerson, for his part, said the U.S. “would continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.”

In the meantime, he said, “our military preparation is strong. A full range of contingencies are available and they are ready.”

The United States, Japan and South Korea have ramped up joint military exercises, with Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets training with U.S. strategic bombers and advanced stealth aircraft Tuesday in a show of force.

In his speech, Tillerson acknowledged the importance of the trilateral relationship if the campaign was to bear any fruit.

“This is the basis for the security structure of the region … and we continue to exercise together so that we are ready for any possible military response that might be required.”

It was not immediately clear whether Tillerson, whose influence has appeared to wane within the White House, had the backing of Trump to make such a radical shift.

The White House issued an ambiguous statement after Tillerson’s remarks that left unclear whether Trump had given his blessing for the speech.

“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the statement said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

Tillerson had previously expressed a desire to reopen shuttered diplomatic channels with Pyongyang, but was called out by Trump over any attempt at doing so.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man … Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump tweeted in October, using his derisive nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Some analysts said the abrupt about-face had left them wondering if the remarks had been sanctioned by the White House.

“Of course, the question remaining here is how much was Tillerson — who looks like his job is in jeopardy — freelancing on this,” the Japan Institute of International Affairs’ Miller said. “There is a real possibility that others in the Trump administration may walk this back in the coming days.”

Tillerson said there were also other uncertainties, given that “we are dealing with a new leader in North Korea that no one ever engaged with.

“He clearly is not like his father, nor is he like his grandfather,” he said, referring to the current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il and the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea has repeatedly said in state-run media that the U.S. must first end its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang before it would agree to any talks. Observers have said that it likely had little interest in negotiations with Washington until it has mastered the ability to hit the whole of the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile, something some experts say it has yet to achieve.

Kim on Tuesday vowed to “win victory in the showdown” against the U.S. by continuing to manufacture more of the “latest weapons and equipment” to “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday.

During his speech, Tillerson also revealed — apparently for the first time — that the U.S. and China had been talking about how the two would deal with the eruption of conflict or regime collapse in North Korea.

He said the most “important thing” to the U.S. “would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed, and that nothing falls into hands of” nonstate actors.

The Trump administration, Tillerson said, had assured Beijing that if U.S. troops were forced to move above the 38th parallel that divides the two Koreas to do so, American forces would pull back once the mission was complete.

“That is our commitment we made to them. Our only objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that is all,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s comments come just days after United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman — America’s highest-ranking national in the U.N. Secretariat — returned from a visit to Pyongyang.

Feltman was quoted Tuesday as saying that North Korean officials had told him it was important to prevent war but offered no concrete proposal for talks.

“They listened seriously to our arguments,” Feltman said, though acknowledging that “they did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point.”

“I think they have to reflect on what we said with their own leadership,” he added.

He said he had urged Pyongyang to “signal that it was prepared to consider engagement” with world powers and that the United Nations could help.

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we’ve left the door ajar,” he said.

“I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.”



Tillerson says U.S. ready to talk to North Korea; Japan wants pressure

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from a key U.S. demand that Pyongyang must first accept that giving up its nuclear arsenal would be part of any negotiations.

Tillerson’s new diplomatic overture comes nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

“Let’s just meet,” Tillerson said in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think tank on Tuesday.

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Japan’s Economy Boosted by Surge in Capital Spending

December 8, 2017

Japan’s July-September GDP growth raised to 2.5% from 1.4%

TOKYO—Japan’s stronger-than-expected growth offers another sign that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, assisted by a global upturn, may be helping the nation emerge from years of stagnation.

A jump in firms’ capital spending amid optimism about the global economic outlook prompted a revision of Japan’s economic growth for the July-September quarter to 2.5% on an annualized basis, compared with an initial estimate of 1.4%, government data released Friday showed.