Japan drags feet over anti-sub war role

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Sept. 21, 2004 at 5:56 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi continues to back the United States to the hilt in his determination to keep his humanitarian mission troops in Iraq. But serious strains are emerging between America and its most loyal Asian ally over new U.S. demands that Japan shoulder far-greater defense burdens, especially in anti-submarine warfare, and potentially against China.

The Bush administration's latest plans to drastically redeploy U.S. military forces in East Asia have startled Japanese leaders and defense chiefs. According to reports in the Tokyo media, the Pentagon has been pressuring Japan to carry a far-bigger load of burden sharing in the event of potential conflicts with North Korea or with China over Taiwan.

Burden sharing will "mean that U.S. forces will assist the Self-Defense Forces in an emergency in Japan and the SDF will assist U.S, forces logistically in an emergency 'in areas surrounding Japan' such as a crisis on the Korean peninsula or the Taiwan Strait," the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said Monday.

Nobuchika Makimoto, former commander of Japan's Self-Defense Fleet, told the paper he was informed about the Pentagon's new expectations of Japanese naval cooperation during U.S. naval exercises in late July.

Makimoto concluded from what he was told that "in an emergency, the U.S. Navy would probably demand that (Japan's) Marine Self Defense Force shoulder most of the burden of finding enemy submarines and destroying them," the paper said. "The episode suggests that the central threat to the U.S. military, which has shifted attention to the Western Pacific, would be China's increasingly modern naval forces with their increasing number of submarines," it said.

In terms of its configuration Japan's navy, or Maritime Self Defense Force is ideally suited to an anti-submarine deployment. According to Chinese naval analysts, the MSDF "has long been paying high attention to anti-sub combats due to the country's geographical features and along-term threat from the (once-) powerful Pacific Fleet of the former Soviet Union," the official Chinese People's Daily newspaper said Tuesday.

During the 1980s, Japan set up four so-called eight-eight fleets, each comprising eight destroyers and eight anti-submarine helicopters. The Koizumi government is now trying to beef up those forces to "nine-nine" or "nine-10" configurations by adding an extra destroyer and one or two anti-sub helicopters to each force.

The Japanese government plans to introduce four new Kongo-class Aegis missile destroyers designed to have the capability to automatically detect and trace 200 targets within a 270-mile range and simultaneously attack destroy at least 10 of them. The MSDF also plans to replace its existing "Sea King" helicopters with more modern "Seahawk" ones.

Japan's submarine force is also impressive. The Chinese experts stated the MSDF already has 20 submarines, most of them already equipped with anti-submarine devices "The American military believes that Japan is already able to fulfill anti-sub patrolling and mobile operations within 1,000 nautical miles" of its home islands, the People's Daily said.

The Chinese analysts regard Japan's anti-sub warfare capabilities as state-of-the-art and highly professional. "Especially regarding anti-sub operations, Japan has possessed an all-round capability at shore, on water surface, underwater and in the air, with its outfits and tactics nothing short of American ones," the People's Daily said.

However, the Chinese also expressed skepticism Koizumi and his government would deliver the kind of unconditional cooperation that Bush's Pentagon wanted.

The People's Daily pointedly noted, "If Japan goes to war recklessly its naval and air bases on its metropolitan territory would face attacks from ballistic and cruise missiles as well as airmen of the (Chinese) People's Liberation Army". Moreover, Japan's Marine transportation may be blocked, seriously affecting industry and people life." Also, the paper continued, "since Taiwan was once a colony of Japan and the Taiwan question is an internal affair of China, if Taiwan is to ask Japan to help fight against the mainland, the renegade act will inevitably rouse strong indignation among Chinese both at home and abroad."

There are indeed signs that Japan is dragging its feet on agreeing to the increased burden sharing that Washington has demanded, with all its far-reaching implications.

Yomiuri Shimbun said Monday the U.S. government told Japan in May it wanted to implement its proposed new burden-sharing and integration plans as early as September. But even in late August, the Koizumi government still withheld its response to this request at a bilateral meeting held in Washington to the anger of U.S. officials, the newspaper said.

Yomiuri Shimbun quoted a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official saying Tokyo's reluctance to clarify its stance the way the United States wanted "reflected its concern that a reduction of U.S. command center functions in Japan would reduce their deterrent effect," the paper said.

But the differences between the United States and Japan on future defense cooperation go far deeper. Japan, the Tokyo newspaper concluded, "makes defense against regional threats its top priority and depends on U.S. forces for assistance against such threats." By contrast, the paper said, the United States "takes a more global view of potential threats."

In other words, Japan only wants to apply regional cooperation to immediate threats against its homeland and immediate vicinity. But the Bush administration's military planners want Japan to flex its muscle, carry defense burdens -- especially in anti-submarine warfare -- and take risks of getting involved in conflict further a-field and for reasons far broader than immediate self-defense.

The new Pentagon defense demands place Koizumi in a real dilemma. Officials in Tokyo have made clear the prime minister, who has now served longer than only four other men in the post in modern Japanese history, wants to crown his term of office by winning Japan a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But to retain wholehearted Bush administration support for this aim he now risks alienating another Security Council permanent member with a veto vote: China.

Koizumi has been a stronger, more enthusiastic champion of extremely close continuing ties with the United States than any Japanese leader in recent years, at least since Yasuhiro Nakasone in the 1980s. But now he is learning that a friend's hug can sometimes feel crushing.

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