Financial Times

Tokyo increases pressure to keep China arms ban

By David Pilling in Kobe
Published: January 21 2005

Japan yesterday stepped up its campaign to brand China as a potential military threat in the region, saying it opposed the planned lifting of an arms embargo against Beijing by the European Union.

Nobutaka Machimura, the foreign minister, told Jack Straw, his UK counterpart, that lifting the arms export ban would be of concern to all east Asia countries, including Japan.

In a military review late last year, Japan said that China - along with North Korea - required close scrutiny.

Its decision to name China explicitly, against the advice of some Japanese government officials, came after its maritime defence forces chased a Chinese submarine from Japanese waters.

Tokyo has become more vocal in its criticism of Beijing following the promotion of several ministers and bureaucrats who argue that Japan has danced around China for too long.

In a move likely to anger Beijing, the Liberal Democratic party, the dominant member of the ruling coalition, also this week formally expressed its support for frequent visits by Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, to the Yasukuni shrine -a nationalist symbol that enshrines 2.5m war dead, including 14 convicted 'class A' war criminals.

Defence officials say China spends far more than it admits on its armed forces. Citing the North Korean threat, Japan recently signed a joint missile defence system with the US.

However some defence officials privately admit that the real reason for missile defence is to block the projection of Chinese power.

During his visit, Mr Straw confirmed that British troops would protect the security of Japanese ground forces stationed in southern Iraq after Dutch troops withdraw in March.

Japan's pacifist constitution, which Mr Koizumi is pressing to change, gives Japanese troops only a limited ability to defend themselves.