Defense report delay unnecessary
The government's decision to put off the release of this year's defense white paper is nothing but an attempt not to disturb the Japan-South Korea relationship. But a retreat to safe ground on this issue is an ill-thought-out move to turn a blind eye to future trouble that could arise between Tokyo and Seoul.
The administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan has postponed giving cabinet approval to the "Defense of Japan 2010" white paper until September, despite an earlier plan to finalize the annual report Friday.
In explaining the government's decision, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku cited recent actions taken by the United Nations in connection with the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in March. He added the government wanted the white paper to address some issues that will be taken up in a report to be issued in August by a government panel tasked with reviewing the current National Defense Program Guidelines. Sengoku's reasoning is far from convincing.
In the first place, the government does not have to write about the developments cited by Sengoku in the white paper. His account does little to convince the public of the need to postpone the release of the report, more than 14,000 copies of which have already been printed at a cost of about 9.4 million yen.
The real reason behind the decision, according to government sources, is that Tokyo does not want to antagonize Seoul. Previous defense white papers described the disputed Takeshima islets as "an inherent part of our nation's territory."
The sources said the government did not want to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment among South Koreans as this year marks the centennial of the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1910. On Aug. 29 that year, the treaty took effect, starting 35 years of Japanese rule over the Korean Peninsula.
Takeshima belongs to Japan
However, the government has every reason to incorporate into the white paper its assertion that Takeshima inherently belongs to Japan.
Admittedly, South Korea has protested the Japanese government's view every year, claiming sovereignty over the islet group. However, Seoul's reaction has not been so strong as to undermine bilateral relations. Some people fear anti-Japanese feelings could grow among South Koreans as Aug. 29 marks the 100th anniversary of the treaty. So far, however, no such hostility has surfaced.
We think the government should have adhered to its practice of publishing a defense white paper at this time of year.
Postponing the paper's release and then scrambling for an explanation as to why has proved of no avail. Doing so has only drawn public attention to the Takeshima controversy. We feel all this could adversely affect the Japan-South Korea relationship. The Kan administration made the wrong decision about the release of the report.
The Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry had insisted the defense report should be released as initially scheduled. Last week, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Seiji Maehara and Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Akihisa Nagashima visited South Korea, where some officials reportedly asked them to reconsider the timing of the white paper's release. After being briefed by Maehara and Naga-shima, the prime minster and the chief cabinet secretary decided to delay the report's release, according to informed sources.
Not the DPJ's first blunder
This episode is yet another perfect example of an ill-advised initiative taken by political leaders--that is, members of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration--in formulating key policies. Political confusion has erupted frequently since the DPJ came into power, as best exemplified by the turmoil created by the government's ham-handed handling of the dispute over the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.
In December, the DPJ government decided not to include a reference to the Takeshima issue in a teacher's manual for high school geography lessons to be given under the education ministry's new course of study. Failure to say what Japan needs to say could be interpreted as a willingness by our government to make concessions on issues that could affect the foundation of the country.
Takeshima belongs to Japan, both historically and under international law. South Korea is an important neighbor, but our government should not easily buckle to Seoul when dealing with territorial issues.
It is entirely possible for Japan to maintain proper relations with other countries despite a conflict over territorial problems. The government should pursue such a diplomatic approach.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2010)