Fukuda seeks greater military role

NO BYSTANDER: As the Japanese PM argued for a more proactive Japan, Tokyo said it would deploy F-15 aircraft to Okinawa to police airspace violations


Wed, Oct 10, 2007 - Page 1

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda yesterday told a resurgent opposition that Japan must not be a "bystander" in the US-led "war on terror" as he fought to extend a naval mission in the Indian Ocean.

The opposition won control of one house of parliament in July elections and has vowed to defeat government proposals to extend the naval mission providing fuel and logistical support to US-led forces in Afghanistan.

It has so far ignored a government compromise that would stop refueling operations backing combat troops, restricting support to ships policing the Indian Ocean.

Addressing a parliamentary committee attended by key lawmakers from the ruling coalition and opposition, Fukuda said that Japan, as the world's second-largest economy, needed to contribute to international security.

Saying that the international community was united after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, Fukuda said: "How can we sit back as a bystander?"

He also assured the opposition that the Indian Ocean mission does not violate Japan's pacifist Constitution, which was imposed by the US after World War II.

"First of all, the mission is not an act of force," Fukuda said. "It does not infringe on the Constitution at all."

Meanwhile, the US and Japan were locked in a dispute over Washington's demand that Tokyo shoulder more costs for water supplies and utilities at US military bases in Japan, media reports said on Monday.

Washington has urged Japan to cover rising costs of boosting US military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region to deal with North Korea and China, Kyodo news agency quoted sources close to the matter as saying.

"It could cause a crack in the Japan-US relationship," Kyodo quoted a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Japan, plagued by bulging public debts, wants to reduce the so-called "sympathy budget" it sets aside each year under bilateral agreements to help support nearly 50,000 US military personnel in Japan.

For the fiscal year ending in March, Japan allocated ?217.3 billion (US$1.86 billion) for the sympathy budget, ?115 billion to cover salaries for Japanese employees at the bases and ?25.3 billion for electricity, water and gas.

Meanwhile, in an apparent move to enhance its defenses against China, the Japanese Defense Ministry announced yesterday it would deploy F-15 fighter aircraft on Okinawa for the first time by early 2009.

The ministry also plans to deploy AH-64D Apache helicopters on the southern main island of Kyushu as part of the planned fleet relocation to step up defenses against China, the Nikkei said yesterday.