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Kitazawa vague on support options for global antiterror role

by Jun Hongo

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Thursday repeated that Japan will continue to make antiterrorism contributions after the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean is terminated, but stopped short of outlining possible alternatives.

Repeating statements by other Cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Kitazawa said during a group interview that the Democratic Party of Japan-led ruling coalition does not intend to extend the MSDF dispatch, which is part of international antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan. “The temporary law (that enables the dispatch) expires in January,” Kitazawa said without elaborating.

The newly appointed minister did not propose alternative contributions for combating terrorism in the region and only said that his ministry will collaborate with other branches of the government to determine its options.

In addition to ending the MSDF mission, the DPJ made other controversial pledges to win the Lower House election last month. Among them is a proposal to review an agreement with the United States on realigning U.S. forces in the country and a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station outside of Okinawa Prefecture instead of within.

Kitazawa, who will be a central figure in renegotiating the complex issue, said he will visit Okinawa on Friday to speak with local residents about the relocation plan.

“The agreement we have with the United States is of high importance,” Kitazawa said. But he also stressed that the public spoke clearly in awarding the DPJ a landslide victory in the Aug. 30 election. The veteran lawmaker said he will try to have frank conversations with Okinawans, “possibly over some ‘awamori’ drinks,” to grasp how the government can proceed.

While some of the DPJ’s proposals have raised eyebrows in Washington, they have also caused tension with one of the DPJ’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party. The SDP is opposed to dispatching the Self-Defense Forces overseas, but the coalition, which also includes Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), papered over the major rifts when agreeing to form the ruling alliance.

Kitazawa stated that he also opposes the overseas dispatch of the SDF on a personal level, noting that the act may not be in accordance with the Constitution. He added, however, that the issue should be handled on a “case by case” basis and include the SDF’s participation in Peace Keeping Operations of the United Nations.

The key is to maintain strict government control of the SDF, he insisted, touching on the controversy surrounding sacked Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami.

“The war was induced by military men who ignored the government. The government is responsible for not being able to hold down the military,” Kitazawa said, referring to the events surrounding World War II.

Tamogami was sacked in October last year after winning an essay contest with an entry that defended Japan’s wartime actions and its colonial rule of other countries. He also stated Japan was never the aggressor during the war and voiced his revisionist views during unsworn testimony before an Upper House committee.

“All men are given the freedom of opinion,” Kitazawa said during the interview, adding that one should always consider his position before making a public statement.

“Tamogami’s acts were extremely disappointing,” he said.

Kitazawa, an Upper House member who served for 17 years in the Nagano Prefectural Assembly, was first elected to the Diet in 1992 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. The Nagano Prefecture native was the chairman of the Upper House foreign policy and defense committee and is known for his expertise in the field.

Despite his selection as defense minister for his first stint in the Cabinet, the 71-year-old appeared confident handling some of the urgent matters awaiting the DPJ.

Asked about dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program, Kitazawa assured that the government will swiftly enact a bill that will allow inspections of North Korean vessels on the high seas.