SINGAPORE: Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono has slammed China for one-sided provocations over territorial disputes with its neighbours in the South and East China Seas.
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia’s Conversation With, Mr Kono cited a recent sighting by Japan of a Chinese nuclear attack submarine off the coast near the disputed Senkaku islands. He said: “China needs to stop (its) activities trying to unilaterally change the status quo. China needs to learn how to behave as a big country.”
He added that “bigger power comes with bigger responsibility. China needs to learn how to behave with responsibility, and they need to fulfill what they are expected to do”.
Both China and Japan lay claim to the Senkaku Islands, also called Diaoyu by Beijing, in the East China Sea. The maritime dispute, stretching back decades, has been a persistent thorn in bilateral relations.
Mr Kono’s comments come even as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed a “fresh start” to China-Japan relations in November last year. Japan is also slated to host a rare trilateral meeting with China and South Korea later this year.
Mr Kono struck a more conciliatory note on Japan’s economic relations with China. “The peaceful economic growth of China is good not just for Asia but for the global economy,” he said.
He added that as the second and third-largest economies in the world, China and Japan need to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” to tackle global concerns on climate change and trade and economic issues.
Asked if China’s economic growth would make rivalry for major contracts in Asia inevitable between both countries’ firms, he quickly dismissed the notion.
“I think competition is good,” he said, “We believe in the market economy, which is that competition creates better goods and services. At the same time, Japanese companies and Chinese companies or ASEAN companies can work together.”
WORRIES OVER PROPOSED CHANGES TO JAPAN’S CONSTITUTION
Mr Kono also defended Mr Abe’s recent controversial push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution.
The foreign inister asserted that it was “a total misunderstanding” to interpret the revisions as a shift from Japan’s long-term pacifist stance to a more assertive one.
Mr Kono, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, insisted that changes are necessary for Japan’s protection. “We are not going to use force to solve any conflict or dispute, but we will keep a self-defense force to protect Japan,” he said.
Article Nine in Japan’s post-war constitution forbids the country from maintaining a military force. It also states that Japan will renounce war as a way of resolving conflict.
Mr Abe’s administration argues that the proposed amendments are needed to give the Japanese Self-Defense Force – currently not explicitly recognised in the constitution – a clearer legal footing. But the proposed changes have been met with repeated protests by the Japanese public.
Watch Conversation With on Thursdays, 8.30pm SG/HK.