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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Concerned by NKorea and China, Japan calls for stronger US alliance

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Defense Agency, voicing "grave concern" about
North Korea's recent missile tests, has called for the quick implementation of a controversial plan to realign US military bases.

In an annual white paper meant to provide guidelines to policymakers, the Defense Agency also renewed warnings over neighboring China's mushrooming military spending.

Japan in May approved the most sweeping shift of US troops since they were stationed here following World War II, in a bid to deal with 21st-century threats.

But the plan has been controversial, particularly in the southern island chain of Okinawa which hosts more than half the US forces in Japan. Tokyo says 8,000 US troops will leave Okinawa under the plan, but local leaders had pushed for more.

"The quick and complete implementation of the plans for realignment of US troops in Japan... is inevitable for the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region," Defense Agency Chief Fukushiro Nukaga said in a preface to the white paper.

"We will realize the plans whatever the cost," he said.

Nukaga said the Defense Agency "will keep taking all possible measures" to prepare against communist North Korea, which on July 5 test-fired seven missiles in Japan's direction.

"North Korea's ballistic missile launches despite prior warnings by other countries including Japan are of grave concern to our country's security and to the peace and stability of the international community," he said.

But the white paper said that North Korean missiles were not yet accurate.

"Detailed information on its performance has not been confirmed, but its accuracy is not estimated to be at such a high level that it can pinpoint a specific facility, as it is presumably based on Scud technology," it said of the North's Rodong missile.

The missile tests led top Japanese officials to call for debate on whether the officially pacifist country should be able to carry out a hypothetical pre-emptive strike on the communist state.

The comments triggered outrage in neighboring countries which remain haunted by Japan's aggression in the early 20th century and uneasy about its moves to take a greater military role.

The white paper also indirectly criticized China, saying its military budget could outpace Japan's by 2008 if its spending grows at the estimated current rate of 15 percent a year.

"It is necessary to carefully look at whether the purpose of China's military modernization is above the range required for its defense," the white paper said.

It called for officially pacifist Japan -- which euphemistically calls its military the Self-Defense Forces -- to take a more active role overseas.

"The role of self-defense is not limited to taking measures against serious attacks to our country but is expanding to measures against terrorism and other various emergency circumstances, peacekeeping operations under the
United Nations, reconstruction assistance and disaster relief activities, among others," it said.

Japan last week officially wound up a reconstruction mission to
Iraq, its first deployment since World War II to a country where fighting is underway.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi favors turning the Defense Agency into a full-fledged Defense Ministry and revising the 1947 US-imposed constitution, which bans Japan from using force or even having troops.
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