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Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Japan's regional and U.S. relations

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 12:04 PM

POST: My first question is about the recent Chinese flight test, but more broadly now we see China engaged in upgrading its military and its technology. How does Japan view this and what type of actions will Japan take to ensure the security of the Japanese state?

KITAZAWA: I believe that China has been promoting its rapid modernization and also vastly expanding its capability including nuclear or missile capability as well as naval and air force power. I also understand that they are developing their own next-generation fighter, but because they do not openly - they do not have enough transparency - we do not have enough knowledge regarding to what extent they are doing the development of such an effort. I have just met with Secretary Gates today and Secretary Gates mentioned on January 8 regarding this Chinese so-called stealth, a new prototype. It requires close attention. ... But more, because we do not have such open information, at this stage I am not able to clearly state regarding the plans of Chinese aircraft development. So we would like to pursue that China would have more transparency. And what I can mention is that such lack of transparency and the activities of their military is a concern to the region, including Japan as well as international society. In order to improve the transparency of China, I think it's necessary that the international community as a whole engages with China.

POST: In terms of Japan increasing its capabilities, the secretary of defense, when he was in China, was talking about his interest in seeing whether Japan also wanted to see Japan pursue its own fifth-generation fighter program, perhaps by purchasing U.S. technology or U.S. systems. Is that something that, given China's modernization, that Japan will look at more seriously?

KITAZAWA: As I mentioned, the Chinese increasing military capability - mainly air and naval power - regarding this trend, Japan is open to its defense capability, mainly focusing on the defense of the southeastern island areas. And at the same time, we are producing what we call a dynamic defense force, which evolves from the traditional base defense capability concept to more of a high-readiness as well as an operating posture in order to deal with such a trend. As for the international trade regarding military equipment as well as production of military equipment, now it is an international trend to do development jointly with several countries, thereby trying to reduce the cost of a program. So we would like to consider measures to accommodate such a trend. This will have a relation to our three principles regarding arms exports, so we would like to have appropriate explorations.

POST: So does that mean you're going to change your principles?

KITAZAWA: We will continue our studies and considerations. As you will know the basis of Japan is to pursue peace. And so we will permanently abide by this principle. But we also have to deal with the international trends as part of the international community, so we need to have measures to avoid being left behind of the trends. It has nothing to do with ... changing the policies completely to become a country that exports its military equipment to other countries, thereby becoming a death march. It's nothing like that.

POST: It was just in December 2009 that Gates was here, and he had, one could say, a difficult visit. And this visit seems already to seem significantly changed, in his tone and your tone. What has changed, specifically on the Japanese side?

KITAZAWA: I think that there was some sort of misunderstanding regarding Mr. Hatoyama's comments regarding his East Asian community concept. I believe this was misunderstood in a negative way, but this didn't mean that we would shift further [toward] Asia, departing [from] the United States or something like that. Also there were some issues concerning Futenma air station relocation, and there were some difficult times over this issue. But on May 28 Prime Minister Kan [actually, it was Hatoyama] confirmed his intention to firmly proceed with the agreement of May 28, and we will continue to pursue this base agreement as our basic stance while we try our utmost to resolve the issue regarding Futenma. There is a Japanese saying: Something like, 'After rain, the land becomes even more solid.' Now I think we can say that our bilateral relations are more stable and better now, and I think you can actually feel such an improvement in our bilateral relations.

POST: Did China's aggressiveness and North Korea's provocations, did they play a role in concentrating the minds of Japanese leadership about the importance of their ties with Washington?

KITAZAWA: North Korea actually did the two provocative actions, and after Cheonan incident there was the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore, and in this occasion under the initiative of Secretary Gates the trilateral defense ministers' meeting between Japan, the United States and the Republic of Korea was held. The defense ministers confirmed the importance of the close operations between these countries. Also this week my visit to the Republic of Korea was also a great success in promoting our close cooperation.

POST: In the security relationship that the U.S. and Japan have, certainly the U.S. can cast a wide security net in Asia. But Japan, bound by its constitution, is more limited in what it can do. As this relationship tightens, what can Japan offer the United States from a security standpoint?

KITAZAWA: That is stipulated in Articles 5 and 6 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The United States protects Japan from invasion while Japan provides areas for the activities of U.S. forces to enable such activities. So our relationship is not a one-way relationship. It is a mutual operation. And the U.S. forces in Japan are making contributions to peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. Their contribution is an international contribution, based on activities using areas and facilities in Japan. So the presence of U.S. forces in Japan is regarded as a public good. In such a way I think the presence of U.S. forces is making a very good and effective contribution in this region.

POST: But as the relationship deepens, which both sides have spoken about, Japan's role is going to become more important. And I'm trying to understand what kind of new role Japan would be taking.

KITAZAWA: The question is somewhat difficult to understand, but the relationship between Japan and the United States is that in case Japan is attacked by a foreign power, in such occasions what cooperation can be done between Japan and the United States? That is the relations between the two countries. When Japan has an invasion in its territory, Japan will of course do its own initiatives and defense activities.

POST: So for example, if there's a war between South Korea and North Korea, Japan will have no dog in that fight?

KITAZAWA: Basically, yes. But we also have to consider cases in which something happens - if there are situations in areas surrounding Japan, and when there is need to do some evacuation of Japanese nationals outside Japan, there have to be some measures. The other day I made [a] speech in Tokyo and I mentioned this topic, that we need to consider what we do regarding such situations. But we do have a legal framework; we already have a legal framework to deal with situations regarding Japan.

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