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Japan's Defense Chief Proposes Closer Cooperation with Chinese Military

The head of the Japanese Defense Agency says he would like to see military exchanges and joint exercises between China and Japan. Defense Agency Director General Fumio Kyuma, in an exclusive interview with VOA, says the idea has gotten a positive response from China. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo.

Japan's defense policy papers in recent years have increasingly portrayed China as a rising concern for East Asian security. But the director-general of the Japanese Defense Agency says that is no reason not to establish closer military ties between the two countries.

Fumio Kyuma, who next month will become defense minister when his agency is upgraded to a full-fledged ministry, told VOA he wants to see cooperation and joint training between Chinese and Japanese forces.

Kyuma says he has broached the idea to Chinese leaders and has corresponded with high-ranking defense officials in Beijing who have reacted favorably. The defense chief says planning for such cooperation has begun and he hopes to have concrete plans formulated when China's defense minister visits Tokyo next June.

Kyuma says it is important not only to have the present military leadership establish mutual trust, but to get the next generation of officers in China and Japan involved in exchanges.

Kyuma expresses hope that China will be more transparent about its military spending to ease regional concerns about its intentions. But he says he is not personally worried about China one day attacking Japan.

Kyuma says while some in China may hold a grudge against Japan for its aggression on the Chinese mainland in the early 20th century, logically speaking, war is out of the question for China because it has nothing to gain except, possibly, some marine resources, and much to lose.

Japan captured and occupied most of China in the 1930s and '40s before it was defeated in World War II.

Kyuma sought to dispel regional concerns over remarks by some of his fellow Cabinet members that Japan should discuss developing nuclear weapons. Calls for such a debate have increased since North Korea tested a nuclear device in October.

Kyuma and others in the Cabinet have stated that although the issue might be debated, there is no chance Japan will acquire a nuclear arsenal.

Kyuma says he thinks those raising the issue are perhaps trying to send a signal to Washington that they want the United States to reassure Tokyo that it will not waiver from its commitment to defend Japan.

Although not legally binding, Japan has renounced allowing nuclear weapons on its soil and it relies on the U.S. nuclear force for protection.

The United States wants Japan to share more of the burden of defending itself, despite restrictions imposed by its pacifist constitution. U.S. officials have recently pressed Tokyo to say whether Japanese anti-missile ships would shoot down a North Korean missile, even if they were unsure where it was heading.

Kyuma tells VOA that if the missile's heading is unclear then Japan is legally restrained from acting.

Kyuma says it would be extremely difficult to give the order to shoot down a missile if it was not certain that it was targeting Japan. He says such a pre-emptive strike is forbidden under Japanese law.

Kyuma is regarded as one of the more moderate voices on foreign policy and defense in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came into office in September.

Kyuma comes from Nagasaki, which was the target of the 2nd U.S. atomic attack on Japan at the close of the Second World War, and he strongly opposes nuclear weapons.

He previously served as defense chief under Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in the late 1990s.