03/04/2022, 17.52
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As war rages in Ukraine, Abe reopens to debate over nuclear weapons in Japan

by Guido Alberto Casanova

During a TV debate, the former Japanese prime minister suggested that, in light of current international situation, Japan should reach an agreement with the United States to share nuclear weapons. Incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida rejects the idea, but the ruling party, to which both Abe and Kishida belong, is divided over the issue. Meanwhile, hibakusha, the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, are outright against it.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Nuclear weapons have become a hot topic in Japan after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned them last week during a TV programme devoted to international situation and threats to Japan’s security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Abe suggested that had Ukraine not given up its nuclear weapons after the fall of the Soviet Union, it might not have had to face Moscow’s aggression. By the same token, Abe suggested that Japan should discuss with the United States a possible nuclear sharing agreement.

“It is necessary to understand how the world's security is maintained. We should not put a taboo on discussions about the reality we face,” he said, implicitly referring to the challenge of increased Chinese assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Incumbent Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida immediately dismissed the idea because it would violate the three principles that have guided Japanese foreign policy since the 1960s, namely of not producing, not possessing and not allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.

Despite Kishida’s stance, the political debate in the country over the issue has not stopped. Although Abe stepped down as prime minister in 2020, he remains a major player within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in which he heads the right-wing and largest faction, which tends to be more nationalist and hawkish in defence matters.

Abe’s influence on public opinion is well reflected in the intense political turmoil following his statements.

Matsui Ichiro, head of the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai party, echoed Abe’s views by arguing that Japan cannot conduct its policy based on the principles of a bygone era and announced that his party would come up with its own proposals.

Tamaki Yuichiro, who heads the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), questioned the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence and whether it could work with too strict an interpretation of the three non-nuclear principles.

By contrast, Japan’s Communist Party has the opposite opinion, criticising the position of the former prime minister. Party leader Akira Koike said, “The three non-nuclear principles are not a mere policy measure but a national cause.”

More cautious, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the main opposition party, questioned the appropriateness of suddenly raising the issue. Komeito, the LDP's only government ally, said it was essential to stick to the three principles.

In the face of the anger of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bomb survivors, the hibakusha, some have taken a step back.

Victims' associations held a press on Wednesday to publicly condemn the idea of letting nuclear weapons into Japan. “We need people who have not experienced war to understand, at any cost, the realities of war and nuclear weapons,” said a hibakusha representative. The next day, Nippon Ishin removed from its proposals the one to revise the three anti-nuclear principles.

Abe, however, has not given up. Yesterday, during a meeting of his faction, he reiterated his position, which is shared by his party’s right wing. Although the LDP-led government is against any revision, the decisive battle remains internal to the party to which both Kishida and Abe belong.

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