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Shingo Nishimura resigned Wednesday as parliamentary vice minister of the Defense Agency amid an outcry over remarks calling on Japan to consider arming itself with nuclear weapons.

Accepting his resignation, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi later in the day informally appointed Taiichiro Nishikawa of the Liberal Party as Nishimura’s successor.

It was the second blow to the tripartite ruling coalition in four days. On Sunday, the bloc’s candidate lost a by-election in Nagano Prefecture in what was considered a litmus test.

In an interview published in the latest edition of the magazine Weekly Playboy, Nishimura also made sexist comments and invoked a phrase used by Imperial Japan during its militarist days in the first half of the century.

But what gained the most scrutiny was Nishimura’s comment that the Diet “should consider the fact Japan may be better off if it armed itself with nuclear weapons.”

Nishimura, a member of the Liberal Party, then cited laws against rape to show why he thinks nuclear weapons are an effective deterrent.

“If there were no punishment for rape, we would all be rapists,” Nishimura reportedly said. “We do not become (rapists) because there is the deterrent of punishment.”

Calling his remarks “abusive,” the 200,000-member New Japan Women’s Association joined the chorus calling for his immediate resignation.

“I feel deep regret for having used inappropriate expressions,” Nishimura told reporters at the Defense Agency.

He maintained, however, that he simply intended to rouse public debate on national security issues. He added that, as a lawmaker, he will continue to actively take up defense issues in the Diet.

Pressure mounted on Nishimura to resign both inside and outside the coalition government mostly due to the hawkish politician’s position on nuclear weapons; the subject remains taboo in Japan, the only country to suffer through atomic attacks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki told a news conference that Nishimura’s remarks were “quite inappropriate,” saying his argument runs counter to Japan’s three nonnuclear principles — not to make, possess or allow the entry of nuclear weapons.

“A politician has his own personal opinion, but as (statements by) a parliamentary vice minister, who is a member of the government, those remarks are not appropriate,” Aoki said.

He added that Obuchi will take responsibility for the appointment of Nishimura, quoting the prime minister as saying he is “responsible for all the matters concerning national politics.”

Hiroshisa Fujii, secretary general of the Liberal Party, stressed that Nishimura’s remarks were entirely based on his own views.

“What (Nishimura) said is not related to even a glimpse of our basic party policy,” Fujii said.

New Komeito Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba also rapped Nishimura for failing to behave as a “government official.”

Obuchi summoned all parliamentary vice ministers later in the day and urged them to be “cautious” in making remarks.

Even a foreign policy council of the Liberal Democratic Party urged the government to take quick action to “live up to the trust of the people” by summoning Nishimura for questioning.

“Nishimura’s remarks … are extremely regrettable,” read a statement released by the foreign research council of the LDP, which held a meeting Wednesday morning.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, called on Obuchi to discharge Nishimura in a written statement.

The Social Democratic Party, particularly Lower House member Kiyomi Tsujimoto, took the brunt of Nishimura’s comments for its longtime leadership in the postwar antinuclear movement and its ongoing campaign against the right of collective defense.

He returned to the rape metaphor apparently to suggest that those against nuclear arms should be consistent in their views and disavow legal protections as well.

“I said to a female parliamentary member of the Social Democratic Party, ‘I would never rescue you even if you were being raped,'” Nishimura was quoted as saying in the interview, conducted by comedian Yutaka Okawa.

Tsujimoto said she is the one mentioned in Nishimura’s interview and called on him to resign and for Obuchi to take responsibility for his appointment.

Nishimura, a Lower House member from Osaka, has been known for his militaristic views. He last sparked a controversy in 1997 when he made a trip to the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Nishimura was appointed by Obuchi as a vice defense minister in the Cabinet reshuffle that took place Oct. 5.

His remarks are viewed as a severe blow to the coalition, particularly because Obuchi himself took the initiative in selecting parliamentary vice ministers, who will be given much more power starting in the next Diet session.

With the revision of laws to reinvigorate Diet sessions, bureaucrats will no longer be allowed to answer questions for Cabinet ministers, and parliamentary vice ministers are expected to play a more important role.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Aoki read a statement prepared by Nishimura, who claimed “his real intention” was to raise national security issues for active debate in the Diet.

According to Aoki, Nishimura said the two-hour interview was summarized by the magazine, but the content is basically based on what he said during the interview.

Nishimura did not withdraw the comments, Aoki said.

Other remarks in the interview may draw protests from abroad. Nishimura was also quoted as saying he wants to “spread the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere” to the world — a phrase Japan used when it invaded other parts of Asia earlier in this century.

“I’m a nationalist, and I believe one is not qualified to be a statesman if he is not a nationalist,” he was quoted as saying.

Nishimura also told the magazine that he would order the Maritime Self-Defense Force to fire at and sink North Korean vessels should they violate Japanese territorial waters. He was referring to the March intrusion by two suspected North Korean spy ships that escaped back to the Stalinist state after a lengthy chase by MSDF destroyers in the Sea of Japan.

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