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August 13, 1997

Comment on the Meaning of "Nearby Situation" Stirs Debate

As the process of reviewing the Japan-U.S. Guidelines for Defense Cooperation moves forward, a difference of opinion in the Japanese government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party has emerged concerning the scope of the term "nearby situation." Although the review is going ahead at a rapid pace, with the aim of achieving an agreement between the Japanese and U.S. governments in November, LDP and government leaders are taking time to coordinate their views on the interpretation of the term.

Kato's Remark
The current debate was stirred by a remark by LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, who stated during a visit to China in July that the new guidelines "suppose an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, not in Taiwan." In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama explained the government's official view at a press conference, saying that "not citing any specific region by name is our deterrent power." But the ripples from the splash continued to spread. The ruling coalition member Social Democratic Party, for example, urged that the exclusion of the Taiwan Strait from the scope of a "nearby situation" should be stated clearly.
   During a meeting with Chinese National Defense Minister Chi Haotian in China on July 16, Kato had stated that the guidelines "do not have China in mind. They have North Korea in mind" (Yomiuri Shimbun, August 1). Kato then visited the United States, where, in a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, he said that "China's interest is focused on the response of Japan and the United States to an emergency in Taiwan. It is necessary for Japan and the United States to discuss this point carefully" (Asahi Shimbun, July 28).
   Chief Cabinet Secretary Kajiyama raised a barrage of criticism, stating that "the Korean Peninsula is certainly a problem, but we must not say unconditionally that other areas are not a problem" (Asahi, July 28). Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone threw his weight behind Kajiyama, saying that "if [Kato] is giving an interpretation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, then he is wrong" (Sankei Shimbun, July 26).
   After his return to Japan, Kato explained on an Asahi National Broadcasting Co. television program on July 28 that "what I was saying was that at the present time the Japanese people are not thinking about any attack by China on Japan. I didn't say anything in particular about Taiwan."

Government's Opinion
Regarding the term "nearby situation," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that it refers to "any area in which a situation arises that has an important impact on the peace and security of Japan. Unconditionally defining the scope would be difficult." In other words, "If we specify the scope, it will be difficult in the future to respond flexibly to various crises" (Yomiuri, editorial, August 10).
   Speaking at the National Press Club on July 31, Minister for Foreign Affairs Yukihiko Ikeda , in line with the Foreign Ministry's policy, stated that "'nearby situation' is a concept that literally emphasizes the situation, whatever it might be and whatever form it might take" (Tokyo Shimbun, August 1). This stance suggests that Japan's response to an emergency in its vicinity must be decided according to the character and scale of the emergency.
   Regarding the issue of Japan's response to an emergency in Taiwan, Foreign Minister Ikeda commented in his speech on the same day that "I do not want to imagine such a situation" (Tokyo, August 1), and Defense Agency Director General Fumio Kyuma said that "the parties concerned in the problem of the Taiwan Strait have been saying constantly that they will solve the issue peacefully, so I don't think that we will have to imagine such a situation" (Asahi, July 30). Then, in an interview with the Sankei Shimbun, Kyuma said regarding the geographical scope of a "nearby situation" that the scope "could be a little wider" than the concept of the Far East in the Japan-U. S. Security Treaty (Sankei, August 6). On August 6 the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers reported that North Korea had toughened its stance after the Kato remark and that a deputy vice-ministerial-level meeting on the issue of the return to Japan of the Japanese wives of North Koreans resident in that country looked like being postponed.

Spreading Repercussions
Immediately following the comments by Kajiyama and Nakasone, the LDP Diet members with close ties to the defense establishment, many of whom favor a coalition of the LDP with other conservative forces, cried out that it would be odd for Japan not to become involved in an emergency in Taiwan. The SDP, on the other hand, opined that "it should be stated clearly that a nearby situation does not include the China-Taiwan dispute" (Asahi, July 31). Naoto Kan of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan expressed a similar idea.
   It was in this climate that LDP Policy Affairs Research Council Chairman Taku Yamasaki on July 30 announced an opinion paper regarding the term "nearby situation." The LDP is scheduled to coordinate views on this issue with its coalition partners, the SDP and New Party Sakigake (Harbinger), by the end of August. The opinion paper states that (1) the term "nearby situation" is not a geographical concept, (2) the issue is closely related to the concept of the "Far East" in the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which stipulates that Japan will provide rearguard support for activities north of the Philippines, and (3) Japan is not thinking about any "nearby situation" occurring in Taiwan. Attention is focused on whether the SDP can easily compromise with Yamasaki's opinion paper, which does not make any clear reference to such matters as the China-Taiwan dispute.

In an article headlined "The LDP Secretary General's Grand Faux Pas" (Sankei August 4), the critic Jun Eto wrote, "Since ancient times it has been an iron rule of diplomacy that the partners in a bilateral alliance do not stipulate the countries that are the target of the alliance." Regarding Kato's remark, Eto commented that he was absolutely dumbfounded." Eto also took up the statement by Chinese President Jiang Zemin on July 31, on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese army, in which he urged China to build a strong military force. If this comment does not worry us, Eto asked in a harsh tone, then what on earth will?
   In an editorial on July 30 headlined "Not Revealing Your Hand Is Deterrence," the Sankei commented that Kato cannot escape criticism for his rash remark, because "we cannot fulfill the spirit of the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security, which states that we will contribute to the security of the Asia-Pacific region, only by preparing for an emergency in North Korea."
   In contrast, the Asahi wrote in an editorial on July 30 that "if we are going to proceed with making new guidelines, Japan cannot avoid the task of harmonizing its China policy and its cooperation with the United States. Just saying that Taiwan lies in the scope of the 'Far East' does not mean that Japan should go ahead and provide cooperation to the activities of the U.S. military in a Taiwan emergency." Unlike the Sankei, the Asahi concluded that Kato's remark "had stirred a sleeping lion, which will be the focus of debate on the new guidelines."

(Copyright 1997 Foreign Press Center / Japan)

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