WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda belied his mild-manner low-key image Friday when he OK'd a new measure that would transform Japan's decades-old policy supporting the demilitarization of space.
The Cabinet Committee of the main chamber of the Japanese Parliament, or Diet, Friday approved legislation that would allow Japan to deploy military systems in space for defensive purposes. The legislation will now move forward for consideration by the whole lower chamber, but given the majority still enjoyed there by Fukuda's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, it is expected to be quickly approved, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.
The measure confirms that the LDP remains committed to energetically pushing ahead with developing comprehensive ballistic missile defenses for the densely populated island nation as quickly as possible.
Fukuda's coalition ally Komeito and even the most powerful and popular opposition group, Minshuto -- the Democratic Party -- also support the legislation, revealing the breadth and strength of the national consensus behind it, the Asahi Shimbun said.
The move was also striking because it took place while Chinese President Hu Jintao was visiting Japan. Relations between Japan and its giant neighbor have been increasingly strained over most of the past decade, largely because Fukuda's two predecessors, hard-charging and visionary Junichiro Koizumi, who ruled Japan for five years, and his successor Shinzo Abe, were both determined to forge far closer ties with the United States and to develop comprehensive advanced ballistic missile defenses as quickly as possible.
Fukuda was approved by the inner circle of his party as a return to the more traditional, cautious consensus leadership that has characterized the LDP for most of the past half century. But his willingness to risk anger Hu in order to clear the way for the deployment of space-based monitoring systems that could immediately detect missile attacks against Japan indicated that at least on BMD issues, he is following closely in his predecessors' footsteps.
Japan is particularly concerned about the nuclear-capable ballistic threat it faces from nearby North Korea, across the Sea of Japan.
House Dems cut funds for Euro-BMD bases
The long and complicated negotiations about congressional funding for the two proposed U.S. ballistic missile defense bases in Central Europe took a another twist Wednesday when the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Democrat-controlled Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives voted to curt nearly a third of the funds that the Bush administration had requested for the program.
The Bush administration had requested $712 million for the program, but the Strategic Forces Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a close ally of her fellow California liberal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only approved $480 million.
The vote came a week after the White House had won a significant Capitol Hill victory on the issue when the Armed Services Committee of the Senate fully approved the same funding request.
Wednesday's subcommittee vote does not mean that President Bush will not get the funding he wants on the issue. The funds could be restored at the reconciliation conference between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that will produce the final version of the bill that President Bush will eventually sign into law.
However, the funding remains a sensitive point for the U.S. government. Negotiations with the Czech Republic under its current, pro-American Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to build an advanced radar-tracking station on Czech territory have gone well and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to sign the necessary agreements to move ahead with construction in Prague next month.
But north of the Czech Republic, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has put restoring good relations with Russia at the top of his diplomatic agenda. Tusk and his senior government officials have proven less than enthusiastic about finally signing a similar agreement to allow the main base housing 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors to be built in his country to protect the United States and Western Europe against the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be fired from Iran or North Korea.
The Polish foreign minister this week publicly said he would be happy if the United States could find another country in which to deploy the GBIs, and the Polish government and Parliament are holding out for more financial support from the United States to comprehensively upgrade their air defense system.
In this climate, if the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress does eventually decide to slash funding for the BMD bases, they will embolden opponents of the program in Warsaw, including those in the Tusk government.