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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 19, October 1997

New US-Japan Defence Cooperation Guidelines

In New York on 23 September, the US and Japan issued a 'Joint Declaration on Security', signed by the Foreign Ministers (Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Keizo Obuchi) and Defence Ministers (William Cohen and Fumio Kyuma) of both States. The statement agreed new guidelines for defence cooperation - guidelines first set down in 1978. According to US Department of Defense (DoD) officials, the new guidelines will permit Japan to make bases available to US forces in emergencies. They will also involve the Japanese Navy in minesweeping and other operations, including sanctions-enforcement. The Joint Statement also stressed the importance of bilateral ballistic missile defence (BMD) cooperation. Both sides were at pains to point out that none of the revisions had any implications for Japan's constitution, specifying non-offensive, non-interventionist armed forces.

Albright told reporters on 23 September: "By replacing...guidelines that focused largely on the Cold War threats, we have reinvigorated our partnership to meet the challenges of the new era." Obuchi said he was "confident that the new guidelines indeed provide a substantive foundation for US-Japan defence cooperation under normal circumstances as well as in contingencies."

Reaction to the new guidelines was mixed. China expressed concern that the guidelines might be interpreted by Japan and the US as covering joint responsibilities concerning the Taiwan Straits. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Shen Guofang on 24 September:

"Whether the Taiwan Strait is included in the scope of the Japan-US security cooperation directly or indirectly, it would be infringing upon and interfering in China's sovereignty... This is unacceptable to the Chinese government and people... This kind of arrangement should be strictly limited to a bilateral scope or it would surely disturb Asian neighbours..."

The same day, Thomas Foley, the US's ambassador-designate to Japan, sought to reassure China. Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Foley stated: "There is no commitment in this treaty...[concerning] circumstances that may arise in the Taiwan Straits."

Other States welcomed the guidelines. On 24 September, Philippines' President Fidel Ramos told reporters: "[if the guidelines] give Japan a greater opportunity to be engaged in the security and stability of our common region...then I welcome this." The same day, a spokesperson from Thailand's Foreign Ministry said "we believe the deal will boost stability in the Southeast Asian region." South Korea also approved the move. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Moon Tae-young (24 September): "In a way, the new US-Japan security guidelines will help us defend ourselves against threats from North Korea."

Visiting Japan on 14 October, New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon gave the guidelines his enthusiastic endorsement:

"In my discussions with Mr. Obuchi I made it clear that, like many regional countries, New Zealand recognises and values the role the Japan/US Security Alliance plays in helping to maintain peace and stability... We welcome the transparent manner in which the review has been conducted and the Japan/US statement that the guidelines are not targeted at any specific country. We hope that all countries will benefit from the stable environment that the Japan/US security relationship helps to foster in the region."

Reports: US, Japan approve new security pact, Reuters, 23 September; Text - SCC 9/23 Joint Statement on US-Japan defense guidelines, United States Information Service, 23 September; Asia welcomes US-Japan deal, Reuters, 24 September; China warns US, Japan on security deal, Reuters, 24 September; Likely Japan envoy reassures China, Associated Press, 24 September; US tries to soothe China on Japan, Associated Press, 25 September; NZ welcomes new Japan/US defence guidelines, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 14 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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