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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Rising Sun’

NKorea nukes, missiles top concerns in Japan defense review

August 08, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — The threat to Japan from North Korea has reached a “new stage” now that the country is capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program has advanced, a defense ministry report said Tuesday.

North Korea was the main concern cited as Japan’s Cabinet approved the report, less than two weeks after the North test-fired a second ICBM that analysts say has a range that could include more of the U.S. mainland, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

The security review came just a week after Itsunori Onodera, who was defense minister in 2012-2014, resumed that job when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his Cabinet after a slew of politically costly scandals.

Onodera told reporters Friday he planned to update Japan’s defense guidelines to reflect the threat from the North, suggesting he may seek an offensive missile capability. “North Korea’s missile launches have escalated tensions both in terms of quality and quantity. I would like to study if our current missile defense is sufficient just with the Aegis destroyers and (surface-to-air) PAC 3,” said Onodera, who headed a ruling party study in March that called for beefing up Japan’s missile response capability.

The ICBM North Korea tested July 30 flew on a highly lofted trajectory and landed about 200 kilometers (120 miles) off Japan’s Hokkaido island. North Korea has been increasing the range, accuracy and versatility of its missiles and diversifying its launch sites and methods. It has conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 missile launches over the past year alone, exceeding the total of 16 missiles launched over 18 years under former leader Kim Jong Il, the report said.

“North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles and its nuclear program are becoming increasingly real and imminent problems for the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, as well as the rest of the world,” it said.

The 532-page defense report also raised concerns over China’s ongoing assertiveness in air and maritime activity in the regional seas, and raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the country’s military buildup with its budget tripling over the past decade.

While North Korea’s intentions are mainly to put the mainland U.S. in range, its weapons advancements have furthered Abe’s effort to beef up the role of Japan’s military and its missile defenses. Joint exercises with its ally the U.S., also, have dramatically increased. The Defense Ministry already plans to acquire upgraded ship-to-air interceptors SM-3 Block IIAs and mobile PAC-3 MSEs, which would double the coverage area of Japan’s current defenses.

The defense report was originally meant to be issued Aug. 1, but that was delayed by the Cabinet reshuffle. Days before that, defense minister Tomomi Inada stepped down after admitting that ministry officials had covered up information about dangers faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops while they were stationed in South Sudan.

The rise in regional tensions with both China and North Korea has raised the level of alert in Japan. Despite Onodera’s comments, the ministry’s report did not mention the possibility of installing more advanced defense systems such as the land-based Aegis Ashore or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles, or THAAD, or allowing Japan’s self-defense-only troops to conduct retaliatory attacks as proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The THAAD system was deployed last year in South Korea, much to the irritation of China, which has opposed the installation of systems that it suspects could be used to conduct surveillance from outside its borders.

In the East China Sea, China has stepped up activity around Japanese-controlled islands claimed by both countries, expanding to the south and also elsewhere along the Japanese coast, the Defense Ministry report said.

Increased Chinese activity in the East China Sea prompted Japanese air defense troops to scramble against Chinese military aircraft a record 851 times during fiscal 2016, up from 571 times the year before.

“China, particularly when it comes to maritime issues where its interests conflict with others, continues to act in a coercive manner,” the report said. It expressed “strong concern” over China’s behavior and its impact on regional security.

Japan’s prime minister reshuffles Cabinet as support dips

August 03, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Thursday, opting for seasoned party veterans to help restore his battered popularity. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who retained his post, announced the new lineup.

Abe’s approval ratings have suffered from a spate of scandals over alleged cronyism and other abuses and objections to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s tendency to force unpopular legislation through parliament.

The shake-up reflects Abe’s recognition that despite the Liberal Democrats’ overwhelming majority in parliament, his own once seemingly invincible position after more than four years in office may be imperiled.

But plans for the reshuffle were disclosed weeks in advance, and it was not expected to have a major impact on the foreign policy or economy of America’s biggest ally in Asia. The newly named ministers included many Cabinet veterans, including Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who again was named to that post.

Last week, Abe’s protege Tomomi Inada stepped down as defense minister after the disclosure that the ministry hid information about risks faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops in South Sudan. In Japan, choice Cabinet positions tend to be distributed between factions that operate almost like political fiefdoms within the ruling party. This time, the ministers appear to be chosen with factions in mind, but they went to politicians with proven expertise or track records.

Abe also chose several popular lawmakers known to differ from him on key issues such as nuclear power and revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution. The new foreign minister, Taro Kono, 54, is known to be liberal-leaning and has opposed nuclear energy, though he toned down his stance while serving as reform minister in an earlier Abe Cabinet.

A politics graduate of Georgetown University, Kono is fluent in English. He is probably best known for being the son of Yohei Kono, a former speaker of the lower house who also served as foreign minister.

The senior Kono is known for making an apology in 1993 to Asians who were forced to serve Japanese troops as “comfort women” before and during the world War II. Kono’s predecessor, Fumio Kishida, opted out of this Cabinet to become the policy chief for the Liberal Democrats. He is widely thought to be aiming to become prime minister after Abe’s term ends or if he steps down.

Tokyo election, populist leader could shift Japan politics

June 30, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — An election for Tokyo’s metropolitan assembly on Sunday is attracting more attention than usual because it could shift the political landscape in Japan. A big win for a new political party created by populist Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike could strengthen her base and foreshadow an eventual run for prime minister.

WHO IS YURIKO KOIKE?

A former TV newscaster-turned-politician, Koike served in key Cabinet and ruling party posts, including defense minister, before becoming the first female leader of Japan’s capital in July 2016. Stylish and media savvy, she is a populist whose policies can sway depending on public opinion, experts say. Once called a migratory bird for her repeated party-hopping before settling with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in 2002, she launched a new party in May for Sunday’s election: “Tomin (Tokyoites) First.” She has put her nationalistic and hawkish stances on defense on the back burner.

WHY IS SHE POPULAR?

A reformist image and challenge to the male-dominated Tokyo city government have won her an approval rating of around 60 percent. The assembly has long been dominated by the Tokyo branch of the LDP, and Koike has portrayed it as the anti-reform politics of the old boys. She has pushed administrative reforms, reviewed costly venues for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to reduce city spending, suspended a divisive relocation of the Tsukiji fish market over safety concerns and halved her salary. “It’s a typical populist approach. She is challenging the establishment and stressing she is on the side of Tokyo residents,” said University of Tokyo politics professor Yu Uchiyama.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Media polls show Koike’s Tomin party slightly ahead of the LDP in the race for the 127-seat assembly. Some experts predict victory for most of the 50 Tomin candidates even though most are unknowns. Hakubun Shimomura, a senior LDP lawmaker in charge of the party’s Tokyo branch, has said he expects a setback. The ruling party’s popularity has been hit by scandals and gaffes at the national level, and for railroading a contentious anti-conspiracy law through parliament.

The result of the Tokyo assembly election usually sets the tone for the subsequent national election, experts say. Koike has struck an alliance with the Komei party that could allow them to gain a majority. It’s politically interesting, because Komei is a longtime LDP partner at both the local and national levels. Koike, despite her row with the LDP’s Tokyo branch, has maintained friendly ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prompting speculation she may eventually return to national politics.

FUTURE PRIME MINISTER?

Koike ranked third in a Nikkei newspaper survey in March about who should be prime minister, trailing current leader Abe and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s son, Shinjiro. So far, Koike has brushed off speculation about a return to national politics, saying her focus is on Tokyo and its future.

The University of Tokyo’s Uchiyama says Koike would have to broaden her party vision to something like “Japan First” to aim for parliament. Jeff Kingston, coordinator of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan Campus, says Koike has a high support rating but hasn’t achieved much. “I would say her popularity is as high as it goes, and there are a lot more risks of the downside from here onward,” he said. “It’s too soon to declare her as the likely successor of Abe.”

Japan holds evacuation drill amid tension from N. Korea

June 04, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese town conducted an evacuation drill Sunday amid rising fear that a North Korean ballistic missile could hit Japanese soil. More than 280 residents and schoolchildren from Abu, a small town with a population of just over 3,400 on Japan’s western coast, rushed to designated school buildings to seek shelter after sirens from loudspeakers warned them of a possible missile flight and debris falling on them.

The drill follows three consecutive weeks of North Korean missile tests. Last week, a missile splashed into the sea inside Japan’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone off the country’s western coast. It was the second such drill since March, when Tokyo instructed local governments to review their contingency plans and conduct evacuation exercises.

A similar drill was conducted Sunday in the neighboring prefecture of Fukuoka in southern Japan, and others are planned over the next few months.

This story has been corrected to show Abu town is on Japan’s western coast.

Japan public split on idea to cite military in constitution

May 29, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Poll results released Monday show that about half of Japan’s population supports a constitutional revision that would clarify the legality of the country’s military, a new approach Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is proposing as his party struggles to gain public support for a change.

Abe proposed recently that Japan in some way indicate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, which is not spelled out in Article 9 of the constitution. The article renounces war and the use of force to settle international disputes.

He made the proposal this month in what was seen as a compromise, but opponents see it as a step to justify expanding Japan’s military capabilities, which currently have to be kept to a minimum. In the Nikkei newspaper poll, 51 percent of 1,595 respondents supported including a reference to the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9. Thirty-six percent were opposed.

Recent polls by other major media outlets also showed mixed results. Japan decided it had the right under the 1947 constitution to have a military for self-defense, but some legal experts have questioned that, though fewer people do so now.

Abe and his party have maintained the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces, saying every nation has the right of self-defense as allowed under the United Nations charter. Citing his party’s position, opponents have grown skeptical over Abe’s latest proposal and intention of bringing up the Self-Defense Force legality issue.

Experts say Abe’s proposal could lower a hurdle for public support and may be good enough for a symbolic first change to the constitution, which Abe said he wants enacted by 2020. Japan’s 70-year-old constitution has never been revised.

Japan’s ruling party has long advocated a more drastic revision, but the public generally supports the war-renouncing article. The party and its nationalistic supporters view the country’s postwar constitution as the legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II and an imposition of the victor’s world order and values weighing too much on individuals’ rights.

The party-proposed revisions to the constitution released in 2012 called for upgrading the Self-Defense Forces to a full armed forces and establishing a military court.

US, Japan, France, UK practice amphibious landings on Guam

May 11, 2017

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) — The U.S., the U.K. and Japan are joining a French-led amphibious exercise at remote U.S. islands in the Pacific over the next week. Participants say they are showing support for the free passage of vessels in international waters, an issue that’s come to the fore amid fears China could restrict movement in the South China Sea.

The drills around Guam and Tinian may also get the attention of nearby North Korea. Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea spiked last month after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile and the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the region.

The drills, which are led by France and include the United Kingdom, will practice amphibious landings, delivering forces by helicopter and urban patrols. Two ships from France are participating, both of which are in the middle of a four-month deployment to the Indian and Pacific oceans. Joining are U.K. helicopters and 70 U.K. troops deployed with the French amphibious assault ship FS Mistral. Parts of the exercise will feature British helicopters taking U.S. Marines ashore from a French ship.

“The message we want to send is that we’re always ready to train and we’re always ready for the next crisis and humanitarian disaster wherever that may be,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col Kemper Jones, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. About 100 Marines from Jones’ unit will be part of the drills slated for this weekend and next week.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has aggressively tried to fortify its foothold in recent years by transforming seven mostly submerged reefs into island outposts, some with runways and radars and — more recently — weapons systems. This has prompted criticism from other nations, who also claim the atolls, and from the United States, which insists on freedom of navigation in international waters.

Critics fear China’s actions could restrict movement in a key waterway for world trade and rich fishing grounds. China says its island construction is mainly for civilian purposes, particularly to increase safety for ships. It has said it won’t interfere with freedom of navigation or overflight, although questions remain on whether that includes military ships and aircraft.

Mira Rapp-Hooper of the Center for New American Security, a Washington think tank, said the exercises will send a strong message in support of a “rules-based order in Asia” at a time when China’s actions have raised questions about this.

“A reminder in this exercise is that lots of other countries besides the United States have an interest in that international order,” said Rapp-Hooper, who is a senior fellow with the center’s Asia-Pacific Security Program.

The exercises come amid modestly growing European interest in the South China Sea, said David Santoro, a senior fellow for nuclear policy at Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu think tank. “What I’m hearing from the French and to some degree the British, is an increased interest in what’s going on in Asia and how they can help,” Santoro said. As for North Korea, Santoro said Pyongyang would likely be watching but he didn’t think the exercises were intended to send any signal to the country.

Japan, which is sending 50 soldiers and 160 sailors and landing craft, has been investing in amphibious training so it can defend its own islands. Tokyo is particularly concerned China might attempt to take over rocky, uninhabited outcrops in the East China Sea that it controls but Beijing claims. Japan calls the islands Senkaku while China calls them Diaoyu. Japan has also expressed an interest in vessels being able to freely transit the South China Sea.

Guam and Tinian are about 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) south of Tokyo. They’re about the same distance to the east from Manila, Philippines.

McAvoy reported from Honolulu.

Spain’s King Felipe VI meets with Japanese Emperor Akihito

April 05, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Spanish King Felipe VI has met with Japanese Emperor Akihito in his first visit to Japan since ascending to the throne. King Felipe walked on a red carpet Wednesday during a welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace. A group of Japanese children waved both countries’ national flags.

The countries mark their 150th anniversary of bilateral ties next year. The king ascended to the throne in 2014. During his four-day visit, the king and his wife, Queen Letizia, will also meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They are scheduled to visit an earthquake disaster prevention center in Shizuoka, central Japan, before departing on Friday.

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