- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

TOKYO China reacted angrily yesterday after a leading Japanese politician said bullying by Beijing could prompt Japan to produce thousands of nuclear warheads at short notice.
Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of Japan's opposition Liberal Party, said in a speech: "We have plenty of plutonium in our nuclear power plants, so it's possible for us to produce 3,000 to 4,000 nuclear warheads. If we get serious, we will never be beaten in terms of military power."
A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing said the remarks "contradicted hopes for peace and long-term friendship between the two countries and peoples."
The speech is a particular embarrassment to Japan because it comes just days before a visit to China by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is expected to meet China's Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.
The remarks also coincided with a visit by China's parliamentary chief, Li Peng, who was in Japan to mark the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Although Mr. Ozawa is not a member of the government and his party is small, he is one of Japan's best-known and most outspoken politicians. Chinese media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman yesterday as saying, "Ozawa's words were provocative, representing an outdated Cold War mentality."
Even so, Mr. Ozawa's words were evidence of a deep-rooted fear that Japan may be falling behind China in terms of economic power and regional influence. "China is applying itself to expand its military power in the hope of becoming a superpower. If it gets too inflated, the Japanese people will get hysterical," he said during the weekend.
Mr. Ozawa is known as a hawkish politician unafraid of controversy. He was once considered a likely future prime minister, but his political fortunes have waned since he split from the powerful Liberal Democratic Party in 1993.
His speech drew a rapid response from the Japanese government. The chief Cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, said, "It is natural that our country has a policy of not maintaining nuclear weapons. We will preserve that position and appeal to the world to rid itself of nuclear weapons."
However, Mr. Ozawa's remarks are likely to stir fears in Asia about Japan's intentions at a time when the country is gradually expanding the role of its military.
Japan's postwar constitution renounces the right to wage war, but the country maintains a powerful military in the guise of the Self Defense Forces. Last year, Japan swept aside limitations in place since World War II to allow its armed forces to play a supporting role in the U.S.-led war on terror. Mr. Koizumi has said he favors revising the constitution to clarify Japan's right to defend itself and take part in peacekeeping operations overseas.
The Japanese government will be embarrassed at Mr. Ozawa's suggestion that plutonium from the country's power plants forms a ready stock of material for producing nuclear warheads.
Most Japanese are opposed to nuclear weapons and, since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, consider it their moral duty to remind the world of the horror of nuclear war.

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