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The government is considering legislative amendments to cope with any future intruding vessels, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi told a Diet committee Friday.

On Tuesday, two unidentified ships reported in Japanese territorial waters escaped pursuit by the Maritime Safety Agency and the Maritime Self-Defense Force and fled into a North Korean port Wednesday.

Speaking at the Special Committee on Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation in the Lower House, Obuchi said similar incidents may occur in the future and the government must learn a lesson from the intrusion.

“We’d like to study changes in the current laws if necessary. … We’d like to fully study whether the Self-
Defense Forces and MSA handled the matter appropriately,” Obuchi said.

Although Friday’s committee session was scheduled to discuss bills on the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, committee members raised questions about Japan’s ability to cope with these kinds of incidents.

During the session, Defense Agency chief Hosei Norota hinted that the government suspects the vessels were North Korean spy boats.

“We are considering them as rogue fishing boats and and foreign vessels that have intruded into Japanese waters for certain purposes other than fishing,” he said.

He also said the government must find ways to stop such intruders, for example, by equipping SDF destroyers with less powerful weapons that would not cause severe damage.

By law, SDF actions are strictly limited to defensive actions on behalf of Japan, and each of the forces is barred from firing anything other than warning shots, except in cases of self-defense.

The government once considered firing on the boats’ rudders, but dropped the idea fearing the destroyers’ relatively powerful 5-inch guns might cause serious damage or casualties.

On bills related to the defense guidelines, Norihiko Akagi, a Liberal Democratic Party Lower House member, urged the government to consider mandatory Diet reports on SDF operations after missions are carried out.

Under the proposed bills, the government is required to give the Diet reports on basic plans for SDF operations without delay, but a report on actual SDF operations is not necessary.

Responding to Akagi’s request, Norota said, “Regardless of the contents of the proposed bills, we would like to study its necessity.”

Masasuke Omori, director general of the government’s Legislative Bureau, said that the proposed bills would permit the SDF to have minimum use of weapons for self-
defense in international waters when providing logistic support to the U.S. forces.

Later in the session, Japan Communist Party secretary general Kazuo Shii rapped LDP ministers and government officials, insisting that Japan’s logistic support for the U.S. forces under the new guidelines would make the Self Defense Forces targets for enemy countries.

As the government maintains its stance that the logistic support in noncombat areas does not constitute military actions, Shii said the explanation is inconsistent with a 1981 official government statement that affirmed Japan’s right of self-defense to attack a vessel from a third country providing logistic support for a nation directly attacking Japan.

Shii also showed the committee members the request made by the U.S. forces to the defense agency during 1993-1994 crisis on the Korean Peninsula, which consisted of more than 1,000 items including the use of Narita international airport by the U.S. military.

Prime Minister Obuchi and Self-Defense Agency Chief Norota both denied that they had officially heard of the request.

Social Democratic Party Leader Takako Doi requested committee leader Taku Yamasaki to disclose details of operation plans currently being mapped out by the Bilateral Planning Committee, which consists of the SDF and U.S. officials.

Doi claimed that the discussion on the guidelines cannot be continued without the details, which she said names Japanese ports and other facilities that U.S. forces would want to use should an emergency occur near Japan.

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