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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 33, December 1998 - January 1999

US-Japan TMD Cooperation Alarms China

Visiting Japan in mid-January, US Defense Secretary William Cohen made plain that US-Japanese cooperation on theater-range ballistic missile defence (TMD) cooperation was entering an intense phase. One major component of any TMD system will be surveillance-satellites. In December, following North Korea's test-firing of a ballistic missile on 31 August, the Japanese Government announced it hoped to launch four such satellites by the end of 2003. Referring to this plan, Cohen told reporters in Tokyo on 11 January: "The Japanese Government will obviously have to make a decision on whether they wish to try and develop their own separate system... [This option] would be quite expensive and complicated. But that is a decision they will have to make and we will respect that. ... In any event...we will try to help in ways in which we can perhaps share some of our own technology or be of assistance in ways that they would find helpful." Addressing the TMD issue more generally, Cohen added: "I think that the firing of the [North Korean] Taepo Dong 1 missile got everyone's attention in terms of the proliferation of this technology... We are developing a number of programmes and we think it would be helpful to Japan and to us if we can have some cooperative effort as far as the research and development of a TMD programme is concerned."

China views the prospect of a fully-fledged US-Japan programme with alarm. On 12 January, Sha Zukang, Director-General of the Foreign Ministry's Arms Control and Disarmament Department, stated: "This would have a negative impact on regional and global stability... Other countries will be forced to develop more advanced missiles. This will be in nobody's interests. ... We wish the United States was taking a more cautious and responsible attitude."

Cohen responded to Chinese criticism on 14 January, stating at a press conference in Tokyo: "[I]t seems to me that Japanese people and American people have an obligation to provide protection for their troops and for their population in the region against what in theory is an increasing threat from missile proliferation. That in no way poses a threat to the Chinese, so I can't accept the characterisation as being reckless or irresponsible...."

Editor's note: US missile defence plans were set out in fresh detail on 20 January in a major announcement by Defense Secretary Cohen. See Documents and Sources for the announcement, plus comment on its arms control implications from senior Administration officials.

Reports: US ready to help Japan with satellites, Reuters, 11 January; China warns US about missiles, Associated Press, 12 January; Cohen says anti-missile system no threat to China, Reuters, 14 January.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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