Reaction to Ozawa's statement on Japan's Nuclear Capability
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Ichiro Ozawa's comments claiming that Japan could produce three to four thousand nuclear weapons overnight have further destabilized what he described as the most unstable region in the world. If the motive behind this statement was to gain international media attention for himself he has certainly succeeded. Not only were his statements widely reported nationally they were also featured in British, US, Singaporean and Chinese newspapers as well as in several global news agencies. In Singapore and China, his words were considered threatening and worrisome while a British paper called the statement demystifying and a US source strangely labeled it refreshing.
Ozawa's controversial statement was made on April 6 at a conference held in Fukuoka. The Reuters news agency quoted the politician as saying, "it would be easy for us to produce nuclear warheads. We have plutonium at nuclear plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such warheads". According all news agencies his remarks made a clear reference to China's military buildup. Ozawa stated, "China is applying itself to expand its military power in the hope of becoming a superpower. If China gets too inflated, the Japanese people will get hysterical" and added that Japan "will never be beaten in terms of military power". These are clearing threatening words.
News sources quoted China officially condemning the statement saying that it "contradicted hopes for peace and long-term friendship between the two countries". Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue characterized Ozawa's words as "provocative and representing an outdated Cold War mentality". The Singapore Straits Times reflected a similar sentiment and warned that the threat of confrontation in Northeast Asia was now closer than ever.
In stark contrast to the reaction in Asia, Brian Bremner of Business Week described the statement as "refreshing". Although he considered the odds of Japan developing a nuclear weapon pretty low Bremner concluded his article stating that "the reality is that Japan lives in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood and confronting that reality is far healthier than ignoring it".
Finally, quoting Greenpeace International, the Guarding expressed that "Ozawa had exposed the myths of Japan's plutonium programme" and went on to report that Japan had a stockpile of 38 tons of plutonium, enough to make more than 7,000 warheads.
Ozawa claims that his statement was made with the aim of improving China-Japan relations. However, considering what he said this is difficult to conceive. In any country such a statement would be met with harsh criticism. Few were disillusioned about Japan's capability to build nuclear weapons. However, most were certain that the political will to do so did not exist among party leaders. What Ozawa did was to express that the political will to create and direct nuclear weapons against its neighbors existed among high level lawmakers in Japan. This is an extremely destabilizing notion and is not conducive to reducing tension in the region. Japan must quickly dispel itself of such notions and reaffirm its friendly intentions will all neighboring states.
- Brian Bremner, "A Japanese Nuke: No longer unthinkable", Business Week, 11 April 2002
- "Japan can easily produce 7,000 nuclear bombs", The Singapore Straits Times, 10 April 2002
- Teruaki Ueno, "Japanese politician defends nuclear remarks", Reuters, 10 April 2002
- "China objects to Japanese politician's nuclear remarks", Reuters, 9 April 2002
- Jonathan Watts, "Japan could build 7,000 nuclear bombs", The Guardian, 8 April 2002
- "China's #2 leader says ties with Japan warming but Beijing condemns Japanese politician's remarks" The Associated Press, 8 April 2002
- "Politician says Japanese nukes could counter China", Reuters, 6 April 2002