[EDITORIALS]A nuclear-armed Japan?

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[EDITORIALS]A nuclear-armed Japan?

The remark by Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, that Japan can possess nuclear weapons is an absurd one that challenges the world's peace and order, although he qualified that it is "theoretically" possible.

The comment came immediately after the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their nuclear warheads and the World Cup soccer games hosted by Korea and Japan began as the first global sports event of the 21st century. It is an inappropriate remark in its timing and content. At every opportunity, Japan has tried to promote a national image as a peace-loving country, at least in appearance, while emphasizing that it is the only nation to have been attacked by nuclear weapons and that it has "three principles" that ban its nuclear armament.

Mr. Fukuda's latest remark is not in line at all with Japan's image-making efforts. Rather, it gives us the impression that he thinks Japan can now publicly display its right-wing inclination and challenge its nonnuclear-weapon principles, a taboo in Japanese politics.

We cannot shake off suspicion about Japan's real intention, as Mr. Fukuda's statement followed the Japanese government's introduction of a bill for a wartime law, a sudden visit by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan's war criminals, and the remark by the deputy chief cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, that it might be acceptable for Japan to possess nuclear weapons "as long as they are small." Since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, Tokyo has tried, with Washington's tacit approval and cooperation, to play a military role in the international community commensurate with its economic might. This tendency has become even more salient since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

We are not opposed to Japan's increased international political role. We also view positively Tokyo's attempt to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. However, Japan can pursue such goals only with the understanding and cooperation of Asian countries, particularly its neighbors. It must not forget that by raising the specter of its past militarism, Japan will only invite protest from its neighbors and jeopardize world peace.

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