Japan facing greatest danger since WWII: Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a New Year news conference while visiting the Ise shrine in Mie prefecture on Jan 4.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a New Year news conference while visiting the Ise shrine in Mie prefecture on Jan 4. PHOTO: AFP

He vows steps to beef up defence as situation is perilous because of N. Korea's provocations

TOKYO • The security situation facing Japan is the most perilous since World War II because of North Korea's "unacceptable" provocations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said as he vowed to bolster defences to protect the Japanese people.

Tension in the region has been rising, particularly since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test in September, and then in November said it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the US mainland.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is at its severest since World War II. I will protect the people's lives and peaceful living in any situation," Mr Abe told a New Year news conference yesterday.

He said Japan would take new steps to strengthen its defence posture but he did not go into specifics.

The government approved a record military budget last month, with defence outlays due to rise for a sixth year, increasing by 1.3 per cent to 5.19 trillion yen (S$61 billion). The biggest item of 137 billion yen was for reinforcing defences against North Korean ballistic missiles.

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Ms Nikki Haley, said this week that the United States was hearing reports that North Korea might be preparing to fire another missile, and she warned it not to.

Mr Abe has said he wants to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution with the aim of loosening constraints on the military, although the public is divided over changes to the charter imposed after Japan's World War II defeat.

The government approved a record military budget last month, with defence outlays due to rise for a sixth year, increasing by 1.3 per cent to 5.19 trillion yen (S$61 billion). The biggest item of 137 billion yen was for reinforcing defences against North Korean ballistic missiles.

War-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, if read literally, bans the existence of standing armed forces, but has long been interpreted to allow a military for exclusively defensive purposes.

Mr Abe said he wanted more debate on the issue."I would like this to be a year in which public debate over a constitutional revision will be deepened further," he said.

Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition retained its two-thirds "super majority" in Parliament's Lower House in an Oct 22 election, re-energising his push to revise the Constitution.

Meanwhile in Seoul, the head of US forces in South Korea warned against raising hopes over North Korea's peace overture amid a war of words between the US and the reclusive North over its nuclear and missile programmes.

In a New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to dialogue with US ally South Korea and could send a delegation to the Winter Olympics to be held in the South next month.

Mr Kim also warned that he would push ahead with "mass producing" nuclear warheads, pursuing a weapons programme in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions.

In response, Seoul on Tuesday proposed high-level talks at a border village, and on Wednesday the two Koreas reopened a border hotline that had been closed since February 2016.

"We must keep our expectations at the appropriate level," the chief of United States Forces Korea, General Vincent Brooks, was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying in an address to a university in Seoul.

He said the overture was a strategy to divide five countries - the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia - to reach its goal of being accepted as a "nuclear capable" nation, according to the Yonhap report.

"We can't ignore that reality," he said, adding that it was important for the US and South Korea to maintain an "ironclad and razor sharp" alliance.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2018, with the headline 'Japan facing greatest danger since WWII: Abe'. Print Edition | Subscribe