Defending Japan

Offshore in a Dangerous Neighbourhood

The tale of North Korea-Iran cash flow

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Robert Neff at The Marmot’s Hole has a fascinating post detailing the money trail from North Korea to Iran via Seoul. This quote of a Choson Ilbo article is a brief introduction:

Iran paid North Korea US$2.5 million for arms purchases in 2008 through the South Korean branch of Bank Mellat, U.S. diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks suggest. They also say that China exported to North Korea dual-use products that could be transformed into parts for Scud missiles.

For the full details, read the post at The Marmot’s Hole: Following the North Korean-Iranian money trail through Seoul. Fantastic stuff.


Written by James

2011/01/19 at 01:25

Hardware Monday: J/FPS-5 Fixed 3D Radar

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J/FPS-5 Radar Prototype in Iioka, Chiba
J/FPS-5 Radar in Shimo-Koshikijima, Kagoshima (source: Here)

The FPS-5 is Japan’s most advanced fixed radar installation in its ballistic missile defense system. Its distinctive tortoise shell-like dome covers have earned it the nickname ‘Gamera radar’ after Godzilla’s turtle-derived rival. Mitsubishi Electric produce the 34-metres high structures containing three antennae of between 12- and 18-metre diameter.

The FPS-5 prototype was constructed at the Ministry of Defense research facility in Iioka, Chiba Prefecture in 2004. At the end of 2008, the JASDF Shimo-Koshikijima Sub Base in Kagoshima Prefecture brought the first unit up and running, and the radars mistakenly detected a North Korean missile launch just a day before the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite launch in April 2009.

The second came online in 2009 at JASDF Sado Sub Base in Niigata Prefecture, followed by the third in 2010 at JASDF Ominato Sub Base in Aomori Prefecture. Next year, the fourth FPS-5 should be up and running in the ASDF Yozodake Sub Base on Okinawa Island – it was originally scheduled to be completed in 2011, but this message from the base’s CO suggests otherwise.

Location of FPS-5 Facilities

Location of FPS-5 Facilities
Location of FPS-5 Facilities (source: Ministry of Defense)

Japanese TV coverage of Shimo-Koshikijima Facility

Written by James

2011/01/17 at 22:00

Posted in Hardware

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Maehara Gets It

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Locations of the 17 abduction incidents
Locations of the 17 abduction incidents (source: Government’s Rachi Mondai site)

After years of being bogged down by the abduction issue in the Six-Party Talks, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara seems to understand that it can’t continue.

Whereas top Japanese and North Korean diplomats could sit face-to-face with each other to discuss the abductions at the six-party nuclear talks, the multilateral dialogue is for discussing Pyongyang’s nuclear program, he said.

“Basically, the abduction and missile issues should be resolved by Japan through direct negotiations with North Korea regardless of the six-party talks,” Maehara said.

If the Japanese government follows through on Maehara’s words, it will have been a long time coming. I first blogged about this problem 3 years ago, and by then it had already gone on too long. If Japan cannot keep the abduction issue (at the least) in bi-lateral talks, then it will devalue its role in multilateral forums.

Let’s just hope that Maehara can make good on that statement.


For more information on the abduction issue, check out some of my old posts on the topic at (now-defunct) Abduction Politics:

Mysterious Circumstances: Part 1 [Jan 31, 2007]
Mysterious Circumstances: Part 2 [Feb 3, 2007]
Abduction Issue Bonanza! [Oct 9, 2007]
The Abduction Issue and Japanese Long-Term Strategic Trajectory [Jan 21, 2008]
Logos vs Pathos: Emotion and Reason in Japan’s Abduction Issue [Feb 26, 2008]
Hardly a Coincidence… [May 20, 2008]

Written by James

2011/01/17 at 20:00

MSDF Anti-Piracy Role Protects 32,600 Sailors So Far

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DD113 Sazanami escorting shipping traffic in Gulf of Aden (source: MSDF)

The Japanese Embassy in the Philippines is boasting of the MSDF’s role in multilateral anti-piracy efforts off the coast of the Somalia in the Gulf of Aden. According to their press release, Filipino sailors benefited most from the Japanese presence.

The MSDF’s mission includes aiding not only Japanese-flagged ships, but also those of other countries. Apparently the ‘Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has been receiving “applications from various maritime-related organizations, such as ship operators and ship owners, from around the world for escort assistance and safe passage for vessels.”‘

I’ve tabulated the data from the report below:

    Country of Origin   Nationals Escorted       Flag   Vessels Escorted       Type of Vessel   Vessels Escorted    
    Philippines   10,607       Panama   435       Tankers   737    
    India   5,824       Liberia   140       General Cargo Ships   436    
    China   3,470       China   137       Special Cargo Ships   89    
    Ukraine   2,210       Marshall Islands   87       Container Ships   51    
    Turkey   1,683       Malta   69       Car Carriers   41    
    Russia   1,669       Singapore   66       LPG Carriers   34    
    South Korea   1,339       India   54       Passenger Ships   5    
    Myanmar   958       Bahamas   51                
    Indonesia   568       Antigua and Barbuda   43                
    Bangladesh   540       Norway   42                
    Thailand   428       Turkey   36                
    Japan   374       Isle of Man   26                
    Latvia   307       South Korea   23                
    Greece   275       Greece   22*                
    Romania   265                            
    Croatia   220                            
    Bulgaria   189                            
    Poland   189                            
    Vietnam   188                            
    Pakistan   179                            
    Egypt   111                            
    Georgia   102                            
    Germany   83                            
    United Kingdom   81                            

*Article states 922, clearly a typo


MSDF Anti-Piracy Mission [Japanese]

Written by James

2011/01/17 at 14:00

Posted in Analysis

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Weekend Update: Jan 16 2011

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#1: US-China arms race?

Gates and President Hu Jintao on Jan 11, 2011
Gates and President Hu Jintao on Jan 11, 2011
(Source: Global Post (Larry Downing/Getty Images))

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Beijing to discuss improving military ties between the US and China. On his arrival, the PLAAF tested their new J-20 fighter, apparently without telling President Hu Jintao.

The test signalled “the military’s opposition to Gates’s trip and to U.S. efforts to improve military connections between the countries,” according to John Pomfret at the Washington Post. This apparent disconnect between China’s military and civilian leaders is causing concern in the region.

To underscore the tension between the US and China, a Pew Research Center survey shows that “One-in-five Americans identify China when asked to name the country representing the greatest threat to the U.S., up from 11% in November 2009.” China tops this list of global threats, ahead of North Korea (18%) and Iran (12%), although only 22% of the population saw China as an adversary, as opposed to being a ‘serious problem’ (43%).

Gates flew to Tokyo from Beijing, leaving China with little to show: rejecting a “proposal by Gates to establish a US-China dialogue on strategic stability — in other words, on the future of nuclear weapons in Asia and mutual threat perceptions related to nuclear and missile defence capabilities.” It seems a waste of an opportunity to engage the US and their fears, and makes assurances that “China is opposed to hegemony and military expansion, and it will under no circumstances be part of or trigger an arms race,” all the less believable.

We can only hope that this is an attempt to keep the ball in China’s court ahead of Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington on Tuesday, where he will be given the chance to concrete his legacy.

For more information on Chinese-US relations and what to expect next week, check out the excellent articles below:

Building Cooperation in the US–China Military-to-Military Relationship by Michael Schiffer [IISS]
Hu Jintao’s State Visit: China and the Korean Peninsula by Victor Cha [CSIS]
A Conversation with Yang Jiechi [CFR]
Why US Keeps Hedging Over China
by Richard Weitz [The Diplomat]
Mr. Hu Goes to Washington by Chris Patten [Project Syndicate]
Hu Jintao’s Upcoming U.S. Visit by Bonnie S Glaser [CSIS]
The Hu-Obama Summit by Michael J Green [CSIS]
Dialogue or Disaster by Zhang Wei [Project Syndicate]
Good news and bad news about U.S.-China relations by Michael J Green [Shadow Government]
Clinton, Gates Come Down Hard on China by Nick Ottens [Atlantic Sentinel]

#2: Japan and South Korea come to an agreement on ACSA

Kitazawa and Kim Kwan-jin on Jan 10, 2011
Kitazawa and Kim Kwan-jin on Jan 10, 2011
(Source: Yonhap News)

On Monday, Jan 10, Defense Ministers Toshimi Kitazawa and Kim Kwan-jin agreed to pursue an eventual Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement between Japan and South Korea. They hope to finalise the ACSA by the end of the year, and it would allow for logistics sharing in joint operations (primarily UN peacekeeping operations). They also noted their mutual interest in a possible General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

According to the Asahi, Japan is hoping to bring about better defense ties while President Lee Myung-bak is in office, clearly fearing a return to the antagonism of the previous president, Roh Moo-hyun.

Japan clearly has designs on formalised defence ties with South Korea, beyond being on the ends of mutual security agreements with the US, and so far so good. Japan has a stake in events on the Korean Peninsula, and it is hedging towards improved regional security. The only question is whether any agreements can withstand the shock of any contingencies around Takeshima/Dokdo or the opposition entering the Blue House once more.

The main opposition Democratic Party commented that “strengthening military cooperation with Japan without Japan’s sincere repentance for its war of aggression would go against the public sentiment here […] The discussions on military cooperation must stop immediately.”

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara followed up on Kitazawa’s visit on Saturday to discuss trade and security cooperation between the two states.

#3: Kan rearranges the furniture

Kan and his Cabinet on Jan 14, 2011
Kan and his Cabinet on Jan 14, 2011
(Source: Kantei Website)

On Friday, Jan 14, Prime Minister Naoto Kan tried to relieve pressure from the opposition by ditching Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Sumio Mabuchi. Without the support of the opposition, Kan would be unable to pass the ¥92.4 trillion budget.

In Kan’s third Cabinet reshuffle, Deputy CCS Yukio Edano replaced Sengoku, and Mabuchi was replaced by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akihiro Ohata. Four new ministers were brought in: Kansei Nakano replaces Tomiko Okazaki, chairwoman of the National Public Safety Commission; Satsuki Eda as Justice Minister; former Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii takes over as Deputy CCS; and controversially, Kaoru Yosano – former LDP fiscal heavyweight and founder of the breakaway Sunrise Party (Tachiagare Nihon).

News of Yosano’s appointment as Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy and Minister for Comprehensive Reform of Social Security and Tax is a sign that Kan is knuckling down on tax and social security reforms. The Yomiuri also noted that Edano’s promotion signals a further attempt to marginalise the embattled former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa.

The Cabinet shuffle leaves only one woman by Kan’s side: 43-year old Renho, also the youngest member of the Cabinet. Yosano, 72, is now the joint oldest member of the Cabinet (alongside Kitazawa) and he also has the unlikely portfolio of Social Affairs and Gender Equality (also replacing Tomiko Okazaki).

The reshuffle brought support for the Cabinet up to a hearty 32%, but there is already talk of what – or who – comes next. In the meantime, Kan has shown political courage in poaching Yosano, and demonstrated that he won’t back down – much like his wife already told us.

The Small Print

Opening the door for arms exports: Kyle Mizokami over at Japan Security Watch covered Japan’s current softening towards arms exports. The issue cropped up again during Gate’s visit to Tokyo on Friday. European defence companies are already banging at the doors.

China discussing stationing troops in North Korean ports?

South-North diplomatic hot-line up and running again in Korea

JCG plans to develop new high-performance 1,000-ton patrol boats this year

Prosecutors to drop the case against Senkaku footage leaker

Written by James

2011/01/16 at 22:00

Defense Minister Kitazawa Talks to WaPo

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Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa
Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa
(source: Sankei)

After meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa found that time to sit down and talk with the Washington Post about China’s new toys, Japanese military development, and ties with the US:

POST: In terms of Japan increasing its capabilities, the secretary of defense, when he was in China, was talking about his interest in seeing whether Japan also wanted to see Japan pursue its own fifth-generation fighter program, perhaps by purchasing U.S. technology or U.S. systems. Is that something that, given China’s modernization, that Japan will look at more seriously?

KITAZAWA: As I mentioned, the Chinese increasing military capability – mainly air and naval power – regarding this trend, Japan is open to its defense capability, mainly focusing on the defense of the southeastern island areas. And at the same time, we are producing what we call a dynamic defense force, which evolves from the traditional base defense capability concept to more of a high-readiness as well as an operating posture in order to deal with such a trend. As for the international trade regarding military equipment as well as production of military equipment, now it is an international trend to do development jointly with several countries, thereby trying to reduce the cost of a program. So we would like to consider measures to accommodate such a trend. This will have a relation to our three principles regarding arms exports, so we would like to have appropriate explorations.

POST: So does that mean you’re going to change your principles?

KITAZAWA: We will continue our studies and considerations. As you will know the basis of Japan is to pursue peace. And so we will permanently abide by this principle. But we also have to deal with the international trends as part of the international community, so we need to have measures to avoid being left behind of the trends. It has nothing to do with … changing the policies completely to become a country that exports its military equipment to other countries, thereby becoming a death march. It’s nothing like that.

It’s an interesting read, but nothing too juicy. I think there is an implied push away from Hatoyama’s devastating handling of the alliance, but again, this is nothing new: this month so far has been proof enough of a sea change.

On a final note, I wonder whether Kitazawa was speaking English during that interview and, as a consequence, who chose the word “death march” above: it is not a good phrase for any Japanese minister to use.

Written by James

2011/01/14 at 11:06

S Korea and Japan: Hopes Dashed?

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Protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul
Protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul (source: AP via NPR)

Some time earlier today, a South Korean fishing boat was apparently involved with a confrontation in Japanese-controlled waters near the disputed island Takeshima (Dokdo to Koreans, Liancourt Rocks to the rest of the world). From Xinhau

Patrol ships of the both sides began the joint investigation at around 3:53 p.m. local time in waters about 36 sea miles southeast off the disputed islets in the Sea of Japan, to find out whether a 29-ton South Korean fishing boat intruded into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Korea Coast Guard said in a press release.

Earlier reports said a South Korean coast guard vessel have involved in a confrontation with four Japanese patrol ships as of 2:00 p.m. local time.

Seoul’s coast guard dispatched the patrol vessel to conduct joint investigation with the Japanese side after the receiving report from the fishing boat “SSangyong”, which was chased by Japanese coast guards’ ships when it was sailing in waters about 42 sea miles southeast off Dokdo earlier in the day and then sailed back toward South Korean side, the press release said.

The timing of this incident could not be worse. With Japan hoping to convince the South Koreans to strengthen military ties between the two countries, there is a chance that this incident could revive South Korean anti-Japanese passions.

Of course, it is safe to assume that the timing is no coincidence either. During the talks between Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin, a dozen protestors gathered outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to condem the talks. All it takes is one fervent nationalist in a fishing boat to stir up some tension, and the house of cards could all come crashing down.

It’s early days yet, and we don’t know anything about the pilot of the boat and his motives, but I know where my money lies.

Written by James

2011/01/14 at 01:15