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Abe tells ministers to stand united on security policy

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday instructed his Cabinet ministers to take a united approach to security challenges, a day before the launch of the U.S.-style National Security Council.

With its primary focus on diplomacy and defense, the council will likely discuss defense agenda items the Abe administration is scheduled to approve before the end of the month — new defense program guidelines and a more overarching national security strategy.

Abe made the remarks during the final meeting of the Security Council, which was established in 1986. The new council will replace the Security Council.

“The NSC will take leadership in crafting both guidelines and strategy,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Abe has said the council will become a forum for dealing with issues related to the Senkaku Islands, North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats, and the posture of U.S. forces in Japan.

The launch comes as China’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone over the Senkakus in the East China Sea raised tensions considerably.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the Chinese ADIZ is “a matter of concern for the government as a whole,” indicating the new council will analyze Beijing’s move and intentions to decide how Japan will cooperate with other countries.

Japan and the United States have criticized China for its unilateral action to change the status quo in the East China Sea and have conducted regular flights of their military aircraft in defiance of the air defense zone.

The government has advised Japanese airlines not to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, while Washington issued a statement calling on U.S. airlines to notify China.

Onodera on Tuesday stressed that the launch of the new council will enable ministries and agencies to share and discuss information on a range of issues regularly.

Among these will be the government’s pursuit of local approval for landfill work to replace the Futenma air station within Okinawa, home to more than 70 percent of U.S. bases in Japan.

The Diet enacted a law last week to create the new security council to give the prime minister’s office more power in steering foreign and defense policies, and avoid sectionalism among ministries and agencies.

The prime minister, the chief Cabinet Secretary, and the foreign and defense ministers will meet regularly to discuss security issues under the council. The headquarters will be set up within the Cabinet Secretariat early next year.

Maritime safety role

Japan, according to a draft policy statement, will play a leading role in ensuring regional maritime security while keeping a wary eye on China’s growing assertiveness in the East China Sea, as evidenced by its recent unilateral establishment of a contested air defense identification zone.

Under the draft strategy unveiled Monday that will spell out foreign and security policies, Japan will play a role in making sure international waters remain open to navigation.

To keep China in check both at sea and in the air, Japan will also seek to deal in a level-headed, but resolute, manner with Beijing’s moves to change the status quo by declaring the ADIZ.

The strategy is expected to be discussed Wednesday at the inaugural meeting of the newly legislated security panel, which will play a role similar to the U.S. National Security Council. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet is expected to adopt the strategy on Dec. 13.

The strategy also calls for the government to actively protect, manage and develop remote islands, an apparent reference to the uninhabited Senkaku islets in the East China Sea. China also claims the chain, which it calls the Diaoyu, and established the new ADIZ, which Japan refuses to recognize, to cover the territory.