Japan has the right to develop the ability to make a pre-emptive strike against an imminent attack given a changing security environment although it has no plan to do so now, the defence minister said on Thursday, days after Pyongyang conducted a third nuclear test.
“When an intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent, and there are no other options, Japan is allowed under the law to carry out strikes against enemy targets,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told Reuters in an interview.
“Given Japan’s political environment and the peace-oriented diplomacy it has observed, this is not the time to make preparations for building such capability. But we need to carefully observe the changing security environment in the region.”
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from the United States, Japan, Europe and China.
Onodera said Japan needed to strengthen its ballistic missile defense in view of the DPRK threat.
“Japan, the United States and South Korea managed to respond well to DPRK’s missile launch on Dec 12. But the DPRK is expected to boost various capabilities further. We need to improve corresponding capabilities as well.”
But he declined to say whether it was more urgent than ever to lift a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack.
Exercising that right is now prohibited under a long-standing interpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made clear he wants to lift the ban and a panel of advisers has begun discussing the topic.
Onodera also urged China to work with Japan to set up hotline and other communications channels between Tokyo and Beijing to prevent any accidental clash over Diaoyu Islands.
Sino-Japanese ties cooled sharply after Japan’s government in September "nationalised" three of the disputed islets.
The island row has escalated to the point where both sides have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other, raising worries that an incident could lead to a broader clash.
“There already is a preliminary agreement between Japan and China to set up a maritime communication mechanism,” Onodera said.
“The mechanism would include annual meetings, specialists’ meetings, hotlines between high-ranking people, and direct communications between ships and planes in the field. I would like to have final agreement reached as soon as possible.”