TOKYO - Reports of the alleged North Korean nuclear experiment that did, or did not, take place ten days ago had scarcely died down when another bombshell hit the media - Japan may declare China to be the country that most threatens its security.
The report in the influential Japanese economic paper Nihon Keizai stated that a committee appointed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would publish a recommendation at the end of the month that the government declare China a potential military threat to Japan.
"There is no doubt someone is ignoring facts," foreign ministry spokesman Kong Chuan responded from Beijing. "While the population in China is ten times more than Japan, and China's area is 25 times more, its defense budget is $25.5 billion, while Japan's defense budget is $60 billion. Clearly we have no intention of damaging the interests of our neighbors."
However Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hatsusheeta Takashima told Haaretz, "at a time when we are seeking peace in the region, it would not be wise to declare our neighbor an enemy."
But Takashima also said Japan wants to send a message to China that it must "show more transparency with regard to the development of its arsenal and its strategic goals."
Most ordinary Tokyo citizens when asked said they had not heard of the report. "North Korea is a small country. China is the real power," said Yuriko Okoba, a tour guide. "We know the Chinese haven't forgotten World War II. They hate us."
A senior Japanese official who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "The Japanese public has not forgotten the impoliteness shown them by the Chinese during the Asian soccer championship. This of course is just a symptom..
The official said Japan was aware China hopes to quadruple its economic achievements in the next 15 years and this was not reassuring. "A year ago, it was expected China would be importing two million barrels of oil a day, it has already reached four million, and it's estimated that by 2010, China will need eight million barrels a day. The day is not far when China will become a more important power that we are."
At the same time, an editorial in the major Japanese newspaper Yomiuri called this week on the government to change its policy and put sanctions on North Korea.
Commentators note that with the dramatic fall in Russian military activity in Asia in the last 15 years, China has developed important military capabilities including the launch of spy satellites and sophisticated naval capabilities.
New York Times Tokyo correspondent James Brooke reported that given the strengthening of China, last week Japanese and American officials discussed shared military use of an island belonging to Japan between Oceania and Taiwan, as well as the possibility of building a port on the island of Shimogi-Shima for use by Japanese ships outfitted with air defense systems.
Takashima saw another motive behind the pending committee report: "China has not excluded the possibility of ending the crisis with Taiwan by force."
This Japan views with grave concern, imagining a nightmare in which American forces in Japan, committed to supporting Taiwan, would be attacked by China. However, Takashima said he did not believe the report would "lead to operative conclusions."
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