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Editorial: Enhance Japan-U.S. alliance to help rein in North Korea / Improve ties with China through visits

The Yomiuri Shimbun


Now that the military threat from North Korea has entered a new stage, Japan’s national security environment has become even more severe. Diplomatic issues have piled up.


In the past five years since returning to power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has built relationships of trust with U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of many other countries. He has now entered his sixth year in power, and 2018 will be one in which concrete results are called for.


On the issue of North Korea, the basic premise of cornering North Korea into giving up its nuclear and missile developments must not be forgotten. The top priority is for the international community to thoroughly pressure North Korea through such means as sanctions, to tighten the international net encircling North Korea.


To that end, close cooperation between Japan and the United States is indispensable.


Tighten encirclement


The prime minister met with Trump five times last year. He held talks with the U.S. president over the phone nearly 20 times. In addition to close ties between the two leaders, it is important to work to enhance the effectiveness of the Japan-U.S. alliance by improving bilateral relations in multilayered ways at various levels, for example, between the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department, and between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.


Since forming the second Abe Cabinet in 2012, the prime minister has visited 70 countries and regions. Abe must lead discussions to solve North Korean issues by fully utilizing the personal connections fostered through such visits.


Further involvement of China, a backer of North Korea, is necessary. There must be steady improvement in Japan-China relations to prompt China to exert its influence on North Korea.


In August, the Japan-China Peace and Amity Treaty will mark the milestone of the 40th anniversary of its signing. This is a good opportunity to deepen the mutually beneficial strategic relationship. First of all, the schedule for the summit talks between the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea in Japan must be determined at an early date, and Japan must realize Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s first visit to Japan.


Then, reciprocal visits by the leaders of the two countries — Abe’s visit to China and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan — must be put on a steady track.


Issues still remain between Japan and China as well.


Japan plans to cooperate with China’s Belt and Road economic zone initiative on condition of securing transparency and economic feasibility. By cooperating with the United States and other countries, Japan must promote a “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy” and tenaciously persuade China of the importance of freedom of navigation and the rule of law.


Ability to attack bases


Involved countries hold strong concerns over China’s expansion of its hegemonism and military influence. It is vital to swiftly agree on and start operating a “maritime and aerial communication mechanism” to prevent accidental clashes between the SDF and the Chinese military.


The government is scheduled to compile at the end of this year new National Defense Program Guidelines and a midterm defense buildup plan for fiscal 2019-2023. The content of the guidelines and the buildup plan must be worked out in ways that fulfill the requirements for successfully safeguarding Japan’s peace.


One of the focal points is how to deal with the issue of having the capability to attack the military bases of an enemy country. Japan’s missile defense arrangements have been firmly strengthened. But in the case of multiple missiles being fired simultaneously, it would be difficult for the current system to intercept all of them.


To minimize the possible damage, it is imperative to positively study the option of attacking the missile bases of an enemy country through such means as cruise missiles, which will be newly introduced.


The Defense Ministry has started examining a plan to convert the destroyer Izumo into an aircraft carrier. With an eye on protecting remote islands, the envisioned aircraft carrier is expected to perform such missions as the refueling of U.S. fighter jets. This is because China has been accelerating its military expansion programs, including the building of multiple aircraft carriers.


The government bans the possession of offensive-type aircraft carriers, due to its exclusively defense-oriented policy. It argues that the flattop to be converted from the Izumo does not run counter to this government position because it is a defensive type. It is essential for the government to meticulously explain its position to the people and thus expand their understanding of the renovation plan.


Expansion and improvement plans for Japan’s defense capabilities must include such fields as cyberspace and outer space, and be studied through multilateral approaches and from medium- and long-range perspectives.


Considering the severe fiscal situation, it is difficult to sharply increase defense spending. Drastic cutbacks and streamlining of equipment and personnel that have little necessity will also be unavoidable.


As for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district, the main work of reclamation has gone into full swing. Given such incidents as a part from a U.S. military helicopter falling into the grounds of an elementary school, removing the danger posed by the current military base must be tackled urgently.


A mayoral election will be held in February in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, where the Futenma base is planned to be relocated, and an Okinawa gubernatorial poll is set for this autumn. The nation’s security policy must not be swayed by local elections. The relocation must be pushed ahead regardless of election results.


Rethink strategy


Negotiations with Russia on the return to Japan of the northern territories off Hokkaido have been at a standstill since Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Japan in December 2016. One factor behind this could be that Moscow has been increasingly wary about the strengthening of Japan-U.S. alliance.


Prime Minister Abe plans to visit Russia in May after the Russian presidential election is held in March. Rethinking the strategy on territorial negotiations is an urgent task.


It cannot be overlooked that South Korean President Moon Jae In stated in late December that “the issue of comfort women cannot be resolved” by the Japan-South Korea deal reached in 2015. He apologized to the former comfort women on Thursday.


There can be no rationale for dredging up the issue that was “agreed to have been resolved finally and irreversibly” by the governments of the two countries. Such an action could not win support from the international community.


The worsening of Tokyo-Seoul relations would only benefit North Korea. Seoul should realize this fully.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 8, 2018)

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