Japan promises greater security role in region to deal with threats

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SINGAPORE (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday announced plans to strengthen his country’s diplomatic and security role in the Asia-Pacific region to address what he described as growing threats in the region in the middle of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kishida said Japan would consider acquiring a pre-emptive strike capability in response to an increasingly assertive China, North Korea and now Russia – a controversial plan that critics say would violate Japan’s Constitution waiving the war.

“The Ukraine of today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida said in a keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an Asian security forum.

Kishida stressed the importance of cooperation between regional partners and said he will present a “free and open Indo-Pacific plan for peace” by next spring in which Japan will provide development aid, patrol boats, maritime law enforcement capabilities and other assistance to countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific – where China is trying to increase its influence – to help them better protect themselves.

Japan has promoted a “free and open Indo-Pacific” security and economic framework among like-minded democracies to counter China’s rise.

Japan will provide such support to at least 20 countries, train at least 800 maritime security personnel and provide about $2 billion in aid over the next three years, he said.

Kishida has already pledged to boost Japan’s military capabilities and spending. Japan’s attempt to expand its security role in Asia, where many countries suffered from its aggression during World War II, is a sensitive issue. Kishida assured the audience that the strengthening of Japan’s defense will be transparent and remain within the framework of its Constitution.

He said the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region was deteriorating due to rising tensions in the East and South China Seas and around Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threat to use nuclear weapons have made the road to a world without atomic bombs more difficult, but the tide must be reversed, Kishida said, noting his position as leader of the only country that suffered nuclear attacks.

“I have to admit that the road to a world without nuclear weapons has become even more difficult,” Kishida said.

He described North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles, including ICBMs, and the development of nuclear weapons as a serious threat to regional peace and stability.

“The non-transparent buildup of military capability, including nuclear arsenals, around Japan has become a serious regional security issue,” he said.

The threat can harm nonproliferation efforts by creating reluctance among holders of nuclear weapons to give them up, and a desire among others to develop them, Kishida said.

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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