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Interview: Former PM Fukuda speaks up on Japan's anti-nuclear path (Part 1)

Former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda speaks in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Sept. 14, 2017. (Mainichi)
Takakazu Matsuda, a special adviser to the Mainichi Shimbun, speaks with former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in an interview in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Sept. 14, 2017. (Mainichi)

As Japan faces tense relations with China and South Korea, North Korea has been conducting nuclear tests and repeatedly launching missiles, resulting in heightened tensions in Northeast Asia. In Japan, there has even emerged talk on revising Japan's three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not introducing nuclear weapons into the country.

Takakazu Matsuda, a special adviser to the Mainichi Shimbun, recently interviewed former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who is versed in Asian diplomacy, about the path on which Japan should travel. The interview follows below.

Mainichi: You have met Chinese President Xi Jinping on a number of occasions. And this year marks 45 years since the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. How should relations stand between the two countries?

Fukuda: I got the impression that Xi is a serious man with strong convictions. He will soon set out on his second term, and I hope that under his stable leadership China will advance the kind of domestic and foreign policies that international society can be comfortable with. The world will change according to the level of cooperation between Japan and China. We have to consider how significant the improvement of relations between China and Japan will be not only for Japan, China and South Korea but for the Northeast Asia region as a whole. At present the world sees Northeast Asia as an area of high risk.

Mainichi: There are four fundamental documents, including a joint declaration on the "Strategic Relationship of Mutual Benefit" that was signed between Japan and China in 2008. There is talk of a fifth document being concluded.

Fukuda: Roughly a decade has passed since the joint declaration came out in 2008, and there have been great changes during that period. China has seen remarkable economic growth and has emerged as a great power. Five to 10 years from now the economies of Japan, China and South Korea will greatly surpass that of the European Union and probably top the United States to become No. 1 in the world. This is not a time to be narrow-minded and go on about a strategic relationship of mutual benefit to just Japan and China, but to work at contributing to the world.

Now in North Asia, the parties are bickering with each other. You could say the current environment is a hotbed for bad bacteria to grow. And that's why North Korea is making a fuss. If Japan, China and South Korea firmly lock arms, then North Korea won't be able to go and do its own thing. And that is probably something that would be welcomed under the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Mainichi: As North Korea has gone ahead with nuclear and other tests, arming South Korea with nuclear weapons has increasingly gained public support there, and in Japan some say the three non-nuclear principles should be amended.

Fukuda: If Japan and South Korea were armed with nuclear weapons Northeast Asia would become the "powder keg of the world" and Japan's safety would be completely threatened. Who would hope for such a hellish situation? Who would profit from it? Over the seven decades since the end of World War II, surely we have come to the realization that we must never create such circumstances. The most important thing now is to stop North Korea's development of nuclear weapons. If it cannot be stopped, then freezing it will do. In any case we cannot allow the country to further develop nuclear weapons.

Due to North Korea's missile launches and other factors, there's been an increase in people enthusiastically calling for military reinforcement, but is it acceptable for Japan to take part in an arms race? Peace cannot be obtained through military might. From here on we should search for a way to solve things through diplomacy. We need more diplomatic strength.

Mainichi: We'd like to ask you straight out, how can we protect peace in Northeast Asia from a chain of nuclear weapons?

Fukuda: First we have to stabilize the region. We need a renewed awareness of the fact that there still exists fierce international opinion saying, "We must not create any more nuclear weapons." Japan, in particular, is the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. It is the country that must be the most passionate in its anti-nuclear efforts. There are some people who say that Japan can't underscore its anti-nuclear stance because it is under the U.S. "nuclear umbrella." But that's just an excuse. The two debates should be separated. One would not expect even the U.S. to criticize Japan for making a move toward the denuclearization of the world. If it did oppose such a move by Japan, then it would be criticized internationally as lacking insight. It's the job of diplomats to explain the situation in a way the U.S. will accept.

Mainichi: Collaboration between Japan, China, South Korea and the United States is indispensable.

Fukuda: First, the leaders of the three countries of Japan, China and South Korea need a relationship of trust in which they can say anything to each other. Now North Korea is hitting at their weak point. If the three countries can relate to each other and strengthen their collaboration with the United States, then North Korea will not be able to take liberties.

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