Unfortunately, the CWC set unrealistic dates for eliminating all chemical weapons. The original timeline required each party to destroy its stockpiles, including weapons ‘abandoned’ on the territory of another country, within a decade. The United States, Russia, Japan and other countries have had to request multiple extensions beyond the original April 2007 deadline, with the United States itself not expected to finish disposing of its chemical weapons stockpile until around 2021.
Last month, Hideo Hiraoka, then senior vice minister with the Cabinet Office, announced that the process of eliminating China’s chemical weapons had begun following Fujita’s construction of a mobile detoxification and disposal facility near Nanjing (the Cabinet Office's Abandoned Chemical Weapons Office had hired Fujita last year to build the mobile facility). The corporation is now considering bidding on proposals to construct additional chemical weapons disposal projects in other parts of China.
But the arrests threaten a further postponement. ‘We'd hoped to start accepting bids for construction this fiscal year,’ one Cabinet Office official noted. ‘All we can do now is try to advance the project, but considering the timing of the arrests, I'm worried it might be affected.’Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
It would be a shame if this latest spat disrupted progress on the issue, because addressing mutual chemical weapons threats in the rest of Asia and beyond could provide the basis for much-needed future security collaboration between China and Japan and help ease tensions between the two. After all, it wouldn’t have to stop there—in addition to eliminating abandoned Japanese chemical weapons in China, the two countries could jointly develop strategies to counter regional and global chemical weapons threats.
Both countries have important assets that they can apply to chemical disarmament. China, whose government likes to describe itself as a leading developing country that seeks to advance the interests of other developing states, often enjoys leadership status with this group. Meanwhile, the Non-Aligned Movement, a recognized bloc at CWC meetings, presently includes 112 of the 187 CWC States Parties.
Japan for its part has regularly provided generous funding for international non-proliferation initiatives, giving special priority to supporting WMD disarmament efforts in Asia. Due to the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese non-proliferation efforts have focused on curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. But the Japanese are also eager to prevent the use of chemicals as weapons following their own horrifying experience with chemical terrorism—the most deadly post-war attack to occur in Japan transpired in March 1995, when the Aum Shinrikyo cult released toxic sarin gas inside the Tokyo Metro. Although only a dozen people died, 50 were seriously injured and hundreds more suffered vision and other temporary health problems. If it weren’t for some simple mistakes made by the cult’s operators, thousands could have been killed.