The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 22, 2009)
Japan, China must get in tune on security issues
Differing perceptions between Japan and China on key East Asia security issues were again all too obvious during talks between the defense ministers of the two nations in Beijing.
It is essential that both sides make efforts to narrow these gaps through more frequent dialogues.
At their meeting Friday, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, discussed North Korea's planned rocket launch, which many observers suspect to be a long-range missile. Liang reportedly said to Hamada, "It would be best if North Korea does not fire" a rocket, but added, "Japan and other parties should keep cool heads."
Liang's comments can be interpreted as tacitly tolerating North Korea's planned missile launch. His comments also might have been intended as a warning because Japan and the United States are considering intercepting the missile.
Japan, South Korea and the United States have indicated the missile launch--even if it is a satellite, as Pyongyang claims--would violate several U.N. resolutions. Japan, in particular, lies in the path of the missile and faces the very real danger of having part of the rocket fall on its territory or in its waters. We think the government is absolutely justified in considering shooting down the missile.
Discord benefits North Korea
Disarray between China, which wields some influence over North Korea through its economic cooperation and other channels, and Japan, South Korea and the United States only benefits North Korea. The Japanese government needs to relentlessly seek China's understanding and cooperation on this issue so North Korea cannot drive a wedge between them.
During the meeting, Hamada requested that Beijing explain its defense policy in more detail and more frequently to other nations and increase the transparency of its military capabilities. He also mentioned neighboring nations' concerns over China's military buildup.
Liang, however, brushed off this request, saying that China has employed defensive policies and that such concerns are unfounded. He then spoke of China's intention to possess an aircraft carrier.
The rapid modernization of the Chinese military and the expansion in its activities, particularly by its naval forces, could destabilize security in Asia. If China is sincere in wanting to defuse accusations that it poses a military threat, it must disclose more information on the breakdown of its military spending and details on the quantity and and procurement plans of its military equipment.
Japan, for its part, should continue pressing China to be more open about its military activities.
More substance needed
During their meeting, the ministers agreed on 10 points regarding defense exchanges, including Liang's visit to Japan by the end of this year. However, this visit should not end up merely being a chance to share warm fuzzies. Japan should clearly express its concerns over issues that need to be addressed and hold substantial and constructive discussions with China.
Given that China likely will become a military power in the mid- to long-term, it is important not only to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance but also to establish strategic partnerships with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In this regard, it was meaningful that a vice ministerial-level meeting of defense officials of Japan and ASEAN member nations--the first of its kind--was held Tuesday in Tokyo, and that attendees decided to hold such meetings regularly. Japan and ASEAN members have deepened their diplomatic and economic relations over the years, but ties in the security area pale in comparison.
The theme of the meeting was "common security challenges," such as responses to large-scale natural disasters and antipiracy and other maritime safety measures. We hope participating nations steadily expand and deepen their discussions at next year's meeting and beyond.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2009)