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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012

Boost deterrence to China, Armitage advises


WASHINGTON — Japan must boost its defensive abilities to deter Chinese provocations over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in a recent interview.

News photo
Richard Armitage

"In the first instance, Japan should have sufficient defensive capability to deter such things. That's the first job of the nation of Japan," said Armitage, a well-known expert on Asia.

"Japan has very limited capability because for over a decade Japan has not invested appropriately in defense," he said.

In his remarks, Armitage effectively stressed the importance of Japan boosting its defense capabilities in order to reduce its dependence on the U.S. military.

The U.S. has adopted the view that the disputed islets are covered by the Japan-U.S. security treaty. However, Washington has tried to remain neutral on the territorial row.

"The U.S. government is not going to change their position," Armitage said. "We think the Senkakus . . . is a question to be resolved peacefully."

The uninhabited islets, which are administered by the city of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu, and Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.

According to Armitage, the U.S. decided not to take sides on the issue after the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972, as Washington was asked by both China and Taiwan at that time not to recognize Japanese sovereignty over the islets.

Armitage said that despite the current tension, an escalation into armed conflict between China and Japan is "very unlikely."

Still, "tension will remain until after the changes in both Tokyo and Beijing," he said, referring to a China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition and the looming general election in Japan.

Regarding the dispute between Tokyo and Seoul over islands in the Sea of Japan, Armitage said that "nobody can appear weak" in South Korea because of the December presidential election.

"So while you correctly say nationalism is on the rise, some of it is associated with the changes of power," he said. "I think it's going to take a little time, a little patience, and getting past elections before we can move forward."

The islands, called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, are administered by South Korea.

Armitage stressed that "three great democracies like the United States, Japan, and (South) Korea" should "get along with one another" amid China's rapid expansion.

"I think just some things have to wait for the right time, and unfortunately this month, next month, they're probably not the right time," he said.

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