Japan should continue pushing for a world without nuclear weapons, but must first work toward reducing the nuclear risk, according to Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.
‘The first step toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons is to create an environment in which there is a lower risk of nuclear attacks,’ Okada said yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
Okada saw no contradiction in calling for a nuke-free world while remaining under the protection of the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
‘Being under the nuclear umbrella of the United States does not conflict with Japan’s aim of a world without nuclear weapons,’ Okada said. ‘We are under the umbrella because there is a nuclear threat to Japan.’
He added however that Japan would form a group with ten other non-nuclear nations at next month’s UN General Assembly meeting to devise a plan to work toward a nuke-free world.With the United States pressing Japan to step up sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program, Okada was asked if Japan was specifically targeting Iran, while neglecting to come down hard on other nations suspected to be developing nuclear weapons.
‘We are not just acting harshly against Iran, we are harsh against any nation suspected of nuclear proliferation or aiding other countries such as North Korea,’ the foreign minister said. ‘We do not see that Pakistan is acting in such a way at this point.
‘If Iran does develop nuclear weapons, I believe the countries that will be most directly affected will be countries in the Middle East, and nations in that region may decide to get hold of nuclear weapons as well,’ Okada said. ‘Our attempts to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons are important for the world, particularly the countries in this region. We believe we must work with the international community to press sanctions against Iran.’
He declined, however, to discuss specifics of any possible additional sanctions, saying he preferred to wait until an official announcement was made.Okada claimed to be jet-lagged having just returned from a five-day trip to India and Thailand, a visit on which he warned India (a nation that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) that Japan will stop giving assistance to India’s nuclear energy programme if it carried out nuclear weapon tests. He also called on New Delhi to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
‘I’m hoping to reach an agreement that reflects nuclear non-proliferation with India,’ said Okada about what he described as his ‘toughest’ negotiations in his 11-month tenure as the nation’s top diplomat.
Okada (who is known to be receptive to the media and a critic of the closed press club system here) spoke with good humour for nearly 90 minutes on range of diplomatic issues, including the state of Japan’s relationship with its Asian neighbours and the United States.
‘I’m often asked whether the United States or Asia, including China, is more important, but this is a senseless question,’ Okada said. ‘China is a big trading partner and a neighbouring country, so it is important.
‘But the Japan-U.S. relationship is different in nature and we have a security alliance that is qualitatively different. The alliance with the United States not only benefits Japan, but also the Asia-Pacific Region, so we need to deepen the alliance for the sake of security in the region.’
Okada, who will lead a delegation to China this weekend for economic dialogue on subjects such as rare metals, intellectual property and labour disputes, was upbeat about relations with other East Asian nations. He did, however, have harsh words for the diplomatic approach taken by a former ‘maverick’ prime minister who dogmatically visited a shrine housing the ‘spirits’ of Japanese killed in World War II, including Class A war criminals, during his tenure.
‘Our relationships with other Asian countries and China are moving forward, and China and South Korea are seeing us more favourably. A statement issued by Prime Minister Naoto Kan regarding the 100th anniversary of the annexation of the Korea Peninsula was received well [in South Korea],’ the foreign minister said. ‘Unnecessary friction during the time of the administration of [former Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi is not happening now.
‘Negotiations over a free trade agreement with South Korea, which were once disrupted, are being resumed.’The foreign minister also hinted at a shift in Japan’s diplomatic strategy.
‘Emerging nations are important markets for Japan and our technologies in high-speed rail, water projects and nuclear power generation,’ Okada said. ‘Yesterday the Foreign Ministry established an ‘emerging nations diplomatic room.’ Within 3 to 5 years, we plan to transfer 100 diplomatic personnel from industrial to developing countries.
‘I’m not saying that advanced nations are no longer important, but it’s important to respond to the power shift taking place in the world.’
Okada has been touted as a potential prime minister, but ahead of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s leadership election he said he preferred to focus on his diplomatic role
‘I’m the foreign minister and I would like to expend on my energy on my duties,’ he said.
‘I’ve spent 15 years in opposition and one day I might be in the Opposition again, so I want to do my best as foreign minister.’
Okada did, however, express his allegiance in the next month’s poll. ‘Mr. Kan took over as prime minister just a few months ago. He’s just now beginning to start his own real efforts in this role. I personally feel it is desirable that he be allowed to stay on so that he can adequately fulfil his responsibilities,’ he said. ‘I believe these words are shared by many people in Japan.’
Okada was coy as to whether DPJ bigwig Ichiro Ozawa would be good leader for the country, saying: ‘As Mr. Ozawa is not prime minister at the moment, I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to answer a hypothetical question. The reason being, no matter what answer I give, I’m pretty sure it will be reported in a way that is against my original intention.’