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Japan’s space law shift rattles regional nerves

(Global Times)

08:40, July 03, 2012

The House of Councillors of Japan's Diet recently passed legislation deleting the provisions that the country's Aerospace Exploration Agency's activities are limited to peaceful purposes. According to the law, Japan's aerospace research and development are now developed for security programs such as spy satellites. What motivated the legislation? What influence it will have on regional security and stability? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zhaokun talked to Liu Jiangyong (Liu), deputy director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, Kazuto Suzuki (Suzuki), an associate professor at the Public Policy School of Japan's Hokkaido University, and Lee Sangsoo (Lee), a research fellow with the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy, on these issues.

GT: Do you see the legislation as a major step taken by Japan toward space military development?

Suzuki: The current change, as well as the change in 2008 of the space law, did not initially come from security concerns. These changes were made to shift the paradigm of Japanese space policy from research and development to practical uses.

For many years, Japanese space development was driven by technology without much commercial and security interest.

But there is a growing demand for military satellite communications because of the deployment of Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF) for peacekeeping operations.

Lee: The passing of the legislation appears inevitably to move toward Japan's re-militarization with the opening up of military uses of space use. It is likely that Japan will continue increasing research and development funding to develop military space technology.

It seems that Japan will focus on the improvement of missile detection system. The legislation could also open the door for expanding Japanese military capabilities and Japanese leaders will continue to ease the security limitations imposed by constitutional constraints, with the final goal of transforming Japan into a normal country.

Liu: Peaceful space development should be a consensus among the international community and I think Japan's revision of its space law is obviously aimed at military development.

It means that Japan has entered what became a forbidden zone after World War II. Japan recently also ratified its Atomic Energy Basic Law by inserting "national security" as an aim of the law.

This language could be used as a legal basis for the nation to create a nuclear weapon program. All these moves by Japan are alarming as they could pave the way for the country's further militarization.

GT: Some say Japan pushed the legislation because of the threat of North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons. But there are also comments that Japan sees China's growing military power and space capabilities as long-term challenges. What's your view?

Suzuki: Japan already has the capability to monitor North Korean activities or Chinese activities in the East China Sea, so it was not necessary to change the law if those were the objectives.

Perhaps one of the possible changes would be the early warning satellite for detecting North Korean missile launches.

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