Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Nuclear Energy - Nuclear Weapons, Peace

JAPAN: Call for Nuclear-Free Zone

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Jan 18 2011 (IPS) - Defusing the North Korean crisis can be achieved with a bolder military alliance, say Japan, South Korea and the United States. But peace proponents beg to differ, arguing that inclusion and engagement with the Stalinist state and its ally China is the only way to build trust and lay the foundation for stability at long last in East Asia.

Peace activists interviewed by IPS express alarm at the latest moves in the region – flexing of military muscle through the joint exercises in the Yellow Sea by South Korea and the United States last month in retaliation against a North Korean attack.

They also express misgivings over a move by Japan to build a bilateral security arrangement with South Korea though cooperation between armed forces on both sides. Japan’s new military preparedness, warn advocators of an alternative approach, will create more uneasiness in East Asia. Historical wounds remain hurdles to East Asian stability. In 1950 the Korean peninsula was engulfed in a bitter war, between South Korea and the U.S. against North Korea supported by China.

Hiromichi Umebayashi who heads Peace Depot, a research organisation on alternative peace making, says he is against the latest sabre-rattling in Japan, which is mired in pressing economic, political and social issues.

He points to Japan’s aging population and the fiscal deficit. “The prospect of a higher defence budget in the future to shore up new military activities means cuts in public spending on social welfare. This is not the way.”

Japan has increased welfare spending 12 billion dollars annually to cope with the growing elderly.

Analysts also refer to Tokyo’s stumbling relations with Okinawa, Japan most southern island that hosts two-thirds of U.S. military bases in the country and is thus viewed as a pillar of East Asian security.

Okinawans are angry with Tokyo and demand the relocation of key U.S. marine bases. Their heated protests have become a diplomatic crisis between Japan and the United States.

Peace Depot and other such groups call on Tokyo to pay heed to China, the key player influencing North Korea. Beijing is pushing engagement, in contrast to Western allies.

China frustrated Western allies in December when it opposed a move in the United Nations Security Council to slap North Korea for shelling the Daeyeon- pyeongdo island of South Korea Nov. 23.

Prof. Masao Okonogi, North Korean expert affiliated with Keio University, has repeatedly recommended that Western allies develop a long-term vision, taking into consideration, for example, the energy crisis faced by leaders of the impoverished and isolated country and the desperation of the totalitarian government to cling on to power.

“Clever diplomacy must be able to work around the difficulties in dealing with Pyongyang by focusing on building trust,” he says. “Unfortunately what we are seeing today is the opposite. With military might now touted as powerful enough to change North Korea, the political hurdles have become too daunting for those seeking alternative approaches.”

He points to the decision by North Korea end December to allow International Atomic Energy Association experts to visit its nuclear facilities, now claimed as a breakthrough for South Korea.

Umebayashi says his proposal for a sustainable solution through implementation of a Japanese-Korean Nuclear Weapons Free Zone is gathering steam among parliamentarians in Japan and South Korea.

The Treaty covers countries in the Northeast Asian region and seeks the inclusion of bans on nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment.

The document underscores the criticality of such a zone in a region where China has nuclear weapons while South Korea and Japan have capabilities in terms of technology and nuclear materials such as weapons-grade plutonium.

Prof. Masaki Kabe, law expert at Ryukoku University based in Okinawa, says Japan’s plans to beef up its role military activities in East Asia spells disaster.

“Okinawa will cooperate with the mainland only if Tokyo can pledge policies that will ease American military activities on their island. But this is not the message they are getting.”

Despite the possibility of losing economic support from Tokyo, Kabe says Okinawans have hardened their stance against U.S. bases. Almost half of Japan’s 50 billion dollar annual defence budget supports U.S. marine activities and economic development in areas where military and naval bases are located.

Newly elected Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima has rejected such policy and thrown his support, against the wishes of Tokyo, for the relocation of a key base, the Futenma Air Station. (ENDS/IPS/AP/IP/NU/CN/SK/SS/11)

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