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Japan's dependence on nuclear umbrella highlighted as it hails new US policy

Foreign Minister Taro Kono speaks during a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee, on Feb. 1, 2018. (Mainichi)

The Japanese government's open-armed acceptance of the United States' Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which was recently released by the administration of President Donald Trump, has underscored Japan's dependence on the U.S. nuclear umbrella amid North Korea's nuclear and missile development, a move running counter to its own efforts toward nuclear abolition as the world's only atomic-bombed country as a result of war.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono issued a statement on Feb. 3 after the NPR was released, saying that the U.S. nuclear strategy clarified Washington's commitment to providing extended deterrence to its allies including Japan and that Tokyo "highly appreciates" the latest NPR which showed such a policy. The statement also touched on nuclear disarmament, saying that Japan will cooperate closely with the United States to "promote realistic and tangible nuclear disarmament" while responding to actual security threats, stressing Japan's reality in which the country faces a nuclear threat by North Korea.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said, "While the belief in nuclear abolition is important as ideal, this is not the time for it. ... It is a fact that during the eight years of the administration of President Barack Obama, China and Russia increased their military capabilities and nuclear and missile threats by North Korea grew."

Japan supported the Obama administration's call for a "world without nuclear weapons" and its nuclear arms reduction policy, but had conveyed its concerns to Washington over nuclear disarmament programs that could lead to the weakening of deterrence, such as eliminating nuclear arms to be mounted on cruise missiles. The latest NPR included the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles, which served as one of the reasons for Tokyo to welcome the policy.

Meanwhile, Akira Koike, head of the secretariat of the opposition Japanese Communist Party, attacked the NPR, calling it a "foolish policy."

"The change in direction of the U.S. to make the use of nuclear weapons easier goes against the emotions of A-bomb survivors and the global trend toward nuclear abolition," he said. Koike also slammed Foreign Minister Kono's statement, saying that it was "outrageous" and called the Japanese government's response to the NPR "absurd."

Another opposition lawmaker, Kiyomi Tsujimoto, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan's Diet affairs panel, also criticized Tokyo's approach, saying, "The government needs to say (to Washington) that Japan cannot agree with this kind of policy. It turns back the clock and cannot be accepted." The opposition forces are set to grill the government over its stance on the NPR at the Diet.

Meanwhile, ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida said Japan, as the only atomic-bombed country in war, "needs to monitor" the U.S. nuclear policy as to whether it will affect Tokyo's long-term goal of working toward a world without nuclear weapons."

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