JAPAN - Japan's version of the US National Security Council, meant to serve as the control tower for the nation's foreign security policy, will be tested immediately upon its scheduled opening next week as it deals with China's declaration of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.
The law to establish the Japanese NSC was enacted at the Diet on Wednesday. The new body is intended to gather information from ministries and agencies and devise well-coordinated measures regarding diplomatic and security policies.
The government plans to convene a four-minister meeting-to be attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera-immediately after the law is enforced next Wednesday. The four are expected to mainly discuss responses to China's ADIZ that includes the Senkaku Islands.
The government must respond while paying careful and close attention to such issues as how the Self-Defence Forces should react to airspace violations by unidentified aircraft within the claimed ADIZ, including scramble operations by the Air Self-Defence Force fighters and how to conduct diplomacy with China. It must also consider how to strengthen cooperation with relevant nations such as the United States, an important ally, and South Korea, and how to obtain the cooperation of private airlines to prevent China's ADIZ from becoming a fait accompli.
Some of these factors could have been handled more quickly and flexibly if the Japanese NSC had been established earlier.
For example, although China set up the ADIZ on Saturday, a meeting of the Security Council of Japan-the current ministerial security council-was not held until Tuesday.
Because the government's response to the issue was delayed, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways quickly submitted flight plans to Chinese authorities, briefly giving the impression that Japan had accepted the claim.
However, with the NSC, it is assumed that the four ministers will swiftly hold a meeting and compile a basic policy to respond to the situation by coordinating within the government and thoroughly informing each ministry and agency of the policy in the form of an instruction from the prime minister, for instance.
When deciding basic policies to handle issues, the secretary general of the national security secretariat, to be created as the NSC's executive office, will adjust and coordinate with other nations by closely working with his counterparts in friendly nations.
The US counterpart of Shotaro Yachi, a special adviser to the Cabinet who is expected to assume the secretary general post, is White House national security adviser Susan Rice. The United States recently flew B-52 bombers in a training exercise over an area within the ADIZ without informing Beijing in advance. There was no prior explanation to Japan, either.
After the foundation of the NSC, however, Yachi and Rice are expected to have close contact almost every day, and there would be little delay or omission of communications. This is expected to promote smooth intelligence sharing between the two nations.
Dangers of 'vertical segmentation'
"The NSC is indispensable to increase the Prime Minister's Office ability to act as the control tower of foreign and security policies, as our national security environment has been quite harsh," said Suga at a press conference Wednesday, stressing the significance of the NSC.
In response to a series of crises the government faced in January, negative effects of the vertical segmentation among ministries and agencies were obvious.
A task force involving ministers was set up for the hostage crisis in Algeria, but the force did not initially include Onodera. Information provided by the United States and private companies were not shared within the government as well.
When a Chinese Navy warship locked fire-control radar onto a Marine Self-Defence Force destroyer in the East China Sea, Onodera directly contacted Abe, causing insufficient cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, which resulted in delays before the government could protest the move.
After the NSC is established, however, an "emergency situation ministerial meeting" will be held to decide on a basic policy in cases that threaten the lives or properties of Japanese nationals.
If a case requires the dispatch of the SDF, a "nine ministers' meeting," including the internal affairs minister and the transport minister, will be held with the aim of ensuring civilian control, among other measures.