Newly appointed Defense Minister Yuriko Koike pledged Wednesday to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance but also denounced the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Japan as “unacceptable from a humanitarian viewpoint.”
Koike takes over from Fumio Kyuma, who resigned Tuesday to take responsibility for remarks he made Saturday interpreted as justifying the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which had killed an estimated 210,000 people — mostly noncombatants — by the end of that year.
In her first news conference Wednesday as defense chief, Koike tried to avoid the domestic political minefield of the atomic bomb issue by criticizing the nuclear attacks in the closing days of World War II as “an outright challenge to human beings.”
She added, “Our country will lead the world toward abolishing nuclear weapons.”
Otherwise soft-pedaling on the nuclear issue, Koike said she would do her best to maintain a solid Japan-U.S. security alliance.
“We will continue to firmly maintain the relationship with the U.S. under the Japan-U.S. security treaty,” Koike, Japan’s first female defense chief, told reporters.
Koike, 54, had served as a security adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since September. A graduate of Cairo University, she speaks fluent Arabic and has many personal connections in the Arab world.
One of the highest-profile female politicians in Japan, she was a TV news anchorwoman before being elected to the Upper House in 1992.
During the news conference, Koike was asked to respond to a comment made by U.S. nuclear nonproliferation envoy Robert Joseph on the atomic bombing issue.
Joseph told a Tuesday news conference in Washington: “I think that most historians would agree that the use of an atomic bomb brought to a close a war that would have cost millions of more lives, not just hundreds of thousands of Allied lives but literally millions of Japanese lives.”
Kyuma caused controversy — ultimately forcing him to step down — by saying in a speech in Chiba Prefecture: “I understand the bombing (in Nagasaki) brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn’t be helped.”
Koike sidestepped the question, saying only that Joseph’s view is simply different from Japan’s.
“I’m well-aware of Joseph’s view. That’s nothing new,” Koike said.
In addition to building on the close relations with the U.S. military based on the Japan-U.S. security alliance, Koike also pledged that Japan would expand its security and military cooperation with India and Australia, which, she said, share common values with Japan.