Lawmaker says Japan could become Chinese province

TOKYO, Reuters

A senior Japanese lawmaker said Japan could become just another Chinese province in the future given Beijing’s increasing military capabilities, local media said on Tuesday, prompting strong reaction from Beijing.

The comments by Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), could hurt the improving ties between the Asian neighbors after Abe’s fence-mending trip to Beijing last October.

The two countries are preparing for an April visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that would be the first by a top Chinese leader since 2000.

“If something goes wrong in Taiwan in the next 15 years, we (Japan) might also become just another Chinese province within 20 years or so,” Kyodo news agency quoted Nakagawa as saying in a speech on Monday. China regards self-ruled Taiwan as its own.

“If Taiwan is placed under its complete influence, Japan could be next. That’s how much China is seeking hegemony,” Nakagawa, one of the LDP’s top three executives, later told reporters, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China did not pose a threat to any country and questioned the motives behind Nakagawa’s comments.

“China’s military expenditure per capita is 7 percent of Japan’s,” Qin told a regular news conference. “Meanwhile, it claims that China is a threat. We should question: What is the real purpose and motivation behind these claims?”

He also defended China’s military spending, saying it was for defensive purposes, and urged Japan to honour its commitments to the one-China policy.

“China has long borders on land and sea, so it is very natural to maintain a certain amount of defense power, completely for the purpose of maintaining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It gives no cause for criticism,” he said.

Abe, whose support ratings have been declining partly due to gaffes by his ministers, brushed off concerns about Nakagawa’s comments, saying it was meaningless to debate part of a speech.

“In the past, it was often said that Japan might become the 51st state of the United States,” he told reporters.

Nakagawa, known for his tough stance towards Beijing, also said in the speech that China’s satellite killing missile test in January was meant to keep in check Japan’s planned launch of spy satellites, which went ahead last week.

China used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to knock out an aging Chinese weather satellite last month, triggering international concerns.

Tokyo has urged Beijing to further explain its intentions regarding the missile test, saying that China’s explanation so far has not been sufficient.

“We have been asking China to provide an explanation that is acceptable to the international community over the destruction of the satellite,” Abe said.

Qin repeated China’s stance that it advocates the peaceful use of outer space and opposes arms races in space.