The following is an interview with Minister of Defense Taro Kono.
Q: What is the significance of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which is in its 60th year?
A: The security and the economic prosperity of postwar Japan is thanks to the Japan-U.S. alliance. The alliance has played a major role in the peace and stability not only of Japan but also of the entire region. The alliance is the “region’s public goods.”
Q: Some say there is a new cold war between the U.S. and China. How do you view Japan’s security environment in this situation?
A: Even though the new coronavirus has slowed the economy, China has increased its national defense budget. There is probably a considerable amount of related expenditures that they are not making public. The Japan-U.S. alliance has become extremely valuable these days where China is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Q: China’s People’s Liberation Army is becoming more active.
A: Between January and March 2020, when countries around the world were making efforts to respond to the new coronavirus, the [Air Self- Defense Force] aircraft scrambled against Chinese aircraft 152 times. Moreover, it is impermissible for Chinese vessels to pursue Japanese fishing boats in the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa. One cannot help having misgivings not only about China’s capabilities but also its intent.
Q: How will Japan handle this in the future?
A: The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) will monitor the East China Sea continuously by radar. The Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) fleet will be flexibly operated to protect Japan’s territory, territorial waters, and territorial airspace. Japan will provide facilities and a training environment for the U.S. military in Japan so that it can maintain a high level of response readiness.
Q: What role will Japan have in the “post-coronavirus” Japan-U.S. alliance?
A: There are concerns that there will be more challenges to democracy and a free society amid the conflict between the U.S. and China. Authoritarian governments may institute monitoring systems to regulate people’s activities using the new coronavirus as an excuse. It seems that China is providing such technology. We must be on the alert. It is necessary to think about how Japan, the U.S. and other democratic nations can maintain the world order.
Q: You have held meetings with various foreign ministers since the coronavirus outbreak.
A: Concerns about China have been shared in some ways.
Q: U.S. President Donald Trump has described the security treaty as nonreciprocal.
A: We must create a situation where a country can protect itself. It is important for the SDF to have solid capabilities in new domains such as cyberspace, outer space, and electromagnetic waves, in addition to the Ground, Maritime, and Air SDF. A space operations team and cyber defense unit have been created, but they are fledgling compared to those of the U.S., China, and Russia.
Q: The land-based missile defense system Aegis Ashore deployment plan has been suspended. How will you move forward?
A: Some sort of reevaluation must be made after the discussions in the National Security Secretariat (NSS).