Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi agreed with U.S. and South Korean officials in Tokyo Monday on the need to continue trilateral cooperation in their policies toward North Korea. It is highly significant that Obuchi’s agreement with U.S. policy coordinator William Perry and South Korean Unification Minister Lim Dong Won came on the same day that the Diet enacted a legislative package covering the updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines.

The guidelines were compiled on the basis of a joint declaration on security issued at a 1996 Japan-U.S. summit. The summit was held against the background of mounting security concerns over the Korean Peninsula stemming from Pyongyang’s suspected development of nuclear arms. Under the summit agreement, Japan and the United States sought to strengthen their alliance to enhance security in the post-Cold War Asia-Pacific region. The new defense guidelines and bills covering them were means for implementing agreements in the joint declaration. The defense guidelines had been pending since Perry was defense secretary.

The legislative package included three bills: to authorize the Self-Defense Forces to provide rear-area support to U.S. forces in cases of emergency near Japan, to amend the SDF law to allow the use of SDF ships for evacuation of war-displaced Japanese residents overseas and to revise the Japan-U.S. Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement. The bills are intended to strengthen the deterrent by upgrading the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

The Japanese government has said the concept of “situations in areas surrounding Japan,” to which the revised guidelines apply, is “not geographical but situational.” China has said that Japan should declare that the guidelines do not apply to Taiwan. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed “serious concern” over strengthened Japan-U.S. military cooperation. However, if the surrounding areas were geographically defined, tension could mount with the areas in question. The strategy of not defining the areas has some deterrent effects, which Japan need not give up voluntarily.

Barring China’s possible takeover of Taiwan, the possibility of a crisis occurring “in an area surrounding Japan” is highest on the Korean Peninsula. That would directly affect Japan’s security. North Korea has resorted to brinkmanship in recent years, developing suspected nuclear arms, firing a ballistic missile over Japan, dispatching a submarine (which was sunk by South Korean forces) to waters near Japan, and sending suspected spy boats into Japanese territorial waters. These incidents have caused military tension in Northeast Asia. The establishment of a legal framework for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation helps deter emergencies in areas surrounding Japan that would threaten Japan’s peace and security.

The Diet enactment of the defense bills is also aimed at rebuilding the Japan-U.S. security alliance. In the early 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, there were growing demands in Japan for an abolition of the Japan-U.S. security system. In the U.S., meanwhile, some demanded the U.S. military withdrawal from East Asia. Economic friction stemming from a bilateral trade imbalance destabilized the Japan-U.S. alliance. Following the Korean Peninsula crisis of 1993-94, Washington’s skepticism grew over Japanese willingness to help the U.S. The Japan-U.S. joint declaration on security was issued to avert a crisis in the alliance by redefining it.

The enactment of the defense bills has come against the background of changing defense consciousness of the Japanese, who now feel the threat of a conflict more acutely following the emergencies in the Taiwan Strait and in the Korean Peninsula. In recent years, the occupation of the Japanese Embassy in Lima by Peruvian guerrillas, the Tokyo subway gassing by Aum Shinrikyo cultists and military provocations by North Korea have changed perceptions among the Japanese, who have long taken security for granted.

Political changes in recent years — the end of 38-year single-party rule by the Liberal Democratic Party in 1993, for example — have also contributed to the changing consciousness. Then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of the Japan Socialist Party, who headed a coalition government of the LDP, the JSP and the New Party Sakigake, in 1994 abandoned the JSP’s long-standing policy of maintaining neutrality without military power, by calling for continuation of the Japan-U.S. security system and declaring the SDF constitutional. This had a decisive influence on public attitudes toward defense.

The enhancement of the Japan-U.S. security alliance does not end with the Diet enactment of the guidelines-related legislation. Japan has no legal frameworks for fighting intrusions of its territorial waters by unidentified ships, as the incursion of two suspected North Korean spy boats showed. Laws must be established to define roles of police, the Maritime Safety Agency and the SDF in combating intrusions of Japanese territory by armed spies. Furthermore, laws must be established to deal with military emergencies occurring in Japan. Since they affect people’s rights, the issues should be dealt with carefully. Political leadership is required to form national consensus on the issues.

Regarding the enactment of the guidelines-related legislation, a South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokesman said Seoul hopes Japan will implement the laws “in a transparent way that helps preserve peace and stability in the region.” When the bills cleared the Lower House in April, a South Korean government official told me that Japan should take a more conciliatory attitude toward neighboring countries that are concerned about Japanese defense moves. He said, however, Seoul understands the Japanese need for the updated guidelines. Seoul is clearly hoping that Tokyo will not give up its pacifist Constitution and self-defense policies. Japan should make positive efforts to contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

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