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DITC-Listening: Is Japan considering nuclear weapons?

North Korea nuclear test sparks arms race fears
The World Today - Monday, 16 October , 2006
Reporter: Shane McLeod

ELEANOR HALL: Within minutes of North Korea's announcement that it had detonated a nuclear device last week, analysts were warning of an Asian arms race, drawing in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.Amidst that speculation, Japan's Prime Minister last week declared his country would never go nuclear, pointing to its experience in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.But now one of his senior MPs is calling for an active debate on whether Japan should develop the bomb.
In Tokyo, North Asia Correspondent Shane McLeod reports.

SHANE MCLEOD: The idea that a nuclear test by North Korea could spur a regional arms race has been part of strategic thinking for years.Now that the test is an all-but-confirmed reality, those debates are starting to take on added weight.But Japan's Government, as the largest and richest of all the countries speculated upon as potential nuclear powers, has taken steps to make clear it doesn't want the bomb.A senior figure in the Government's policy-making wing, Yoichi Masuzoe, told the ABC just that last week.

YOICHI MASUZOE: I've said it (inaudible) because we rely upon the nuclear difference of the United States of America, and always, even now, the US is helping us. President Bush clearly declares that Japan and South Korea, just in case these, you know, countries attacked, they would retaliate, the US would retaliate. So there's no need to be equipped with nuclear weapons ourselves.

SHANE MCLEOD: But Mr Masuzoe's comments may have been trumped by Shoichi Nakagawa. A former minister for trade, and for agriculture, he's now the head of the Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council.At the weekend, he said Japan needs to have an active debate on whether it needs nuclear weapons for its own defence. Mr Nakagawa said he wasn't advocating the idea, just that he thought it was a discussion that had to be had. It's sparked immediate condemnation from survivors of the nuclear blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.Iwao Nakanishi was 15-years-old when the bomb went off above Hiroshima in August 1945."Never again," he says, "should we follow the path of war from the 1940s, that we and Japan experienced." Iwao Nakanishi understands why there's debate, but the 76-year-old says the idea of Japan owning its own nuclear weapons should not be considered. "As an atomic bomb victim, I'm absolutely against nuclear tests or having nuclear weapons," he says. "That's my position, and we shouldn't go down that path. However, everything has its ideal and its reality, and if we are attacked by neighbouring countries as a reality problem, a war is possible, and the reality right now for Japan is that America would fight back for us."

Phillip White represents the Citizens Nuclear Information Centre in Tokyo, which campaigns on nuclear issues in Japan.

PHILLIP WHITE: I think Japan should state very clearly that it, as indeed Prime Minister Abe has, that Japan doesn't intend to change its non-nuclear policy, and I think that's as far as it needs to go in terms of debate. I think there's certainly value in clarifying the fact that nuclear weapons are of no use to Japan, and are not desirable in any way. But beyond that I see no reason for a debate which actually opens the can of worms of the possibility of Japan possessing nuclear weapons.

SHANE MCLEOD: The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been at pains to distance himself and the Government from the idea of nuclear weapons development, but he has hinted Japan is strengthening its defensive capabilities by bringing forward the start-up date for a missile defence shield.

As the country that's taken the strongest actions against North Korea since the nuclear test a week ago, he believes his country is under direct threat.
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