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National security may prove weak link in maintaining economic ties

by Teruhiko Mano

Last week, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao met — for the first time in a year — on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Chile. Ever since Tokyo and Beijing restored diplomatic ties in the 1970s, there has been an underlying belief that political and economic relations between Japan and China should be considered separately, because of the different political systems in the two countries.

However, it must also be noted that political problems — in particular security issues — can be obstacles to developing economic ties once they have reached a certain level. Without stable political relations, concern will persist over the continuity of trade ties and the safety of invested assets.

Sino-Japanese relations were marred recently by the intrusion of a Chinese submarine into Japanese territorial waters. China officially admitted to the intrusion and expressed its regret that the vessel was a Chinese nuclear submarine.

The intrusion was a violation of Japan’s sovereignty, and Japan eventually reacted by following the vessel until it left. Unlike the issue of extending the SDF’s deployment in Iraq (which is currently under debate by the Diet) there is no room for second-guessing the Constitution in this case.

To make the incident easier to understand, let us liken it to an armed man walking into the house of another — without the consent of the owner — and leaving after searching the premises at will. In such a case, the owner has the right to demand that the intruder leave immediately, to call the police if the intruder refuses, and to attack the intruder if the situation dictates he cannot wait for the police.

In the sub intrusion, the government knew beforehand that the vessel was approaching Japanese territorial waters. Nevertheless, the government was very slow to respond — even after the submarine entered — and took action only after it left.

As a sovereign state, Japan should have mobilized the MSDF and the coast guard to capture the intruder. Of course, civilian control is important in operating the SDF, but the latest affair has exposed a fundamental weakness in Japan’s defenses.

Under the law of the sea, a submarine, when entering the territorial waters of another country, is obliged to surface and raise a flag showing its nationality. How to respond to such an act is up to the laws of each country. Japan needs to quickly enact laws specifying exactly how it should respond.

China did express its regret, but its insistence that the intrusion was not intentional but due to technical problems is far from convincing. If the submarine had not intruded intentionally, it should have surfaced, raised the Chinese flag and obtained permission from the Japanese government. It has also been reported that the “regret” expressed by China was omitted from an article that was to appear in the People’s Daily.

During the talks with Koizumi in Chile, Hu raised the issue of the prime minister’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine. But the war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni were convicted by the Allied Powers, which included China, in the Tokyo War Tribunal (the legitimacy of which the author has doubts). It is Japanese tradition to honor the souls of the deceased, including those convicted and executed as war criminals, but this is not an issue for foreign governments to interfere with.

It is of course important to have a correct recognition of history and to learn from lessons of the past. But in the submarine incident, China itself does not appear to be learning from its own past. Compromise is necessary in diplomacy, but the violation of a country’s territorial waters is an indisputable crime — just like the kidnappings of Japanese citizens carried out by North Korea — and should not be mixed up with other issues.

The extension of the SDF’s mission in Iraq and Japan’s cooperation with the United States must be considered in the context of such realities as they pertain to Japan. It is not the first time such an incident has taken place. Now that we have confirmed the presence of a nation that does not comply with the law of the sea, the government must review its defenses and implement measures to ensure its territorial waters will never again be violated. It is Japan’s duty as a sovereign state and its obligation to its people.

Decisions on economic activities are made based on two factors — profitability and safety. But when engaging in economic activities abroad, you face different types of risk than when you’re at home. One basic principle of investment states that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. And some Japanese businesses are starting to shift their investments back home.

Just as we must re-examine our defenses, it is essential that Japan review the destinations for its overseas investments.