China touched on ‘nuclear debate’ in Japan at June talks: sources

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Japanese counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone when they met last month that China is carefully watching the debate in Japan on whether the country should promote discussions about possibly possessing nuclear weapons, sources close to U.S.-China relations have said.

Yang mentioned the emergence of such debate in Japan during his June 7 meeting in Tokyo with Nakasone when the Chinese minister said peace and stability are important in Northeast Asia, while adding that Beijing is firmly against North Korea testing or possessing nuclear weapons, the sources said.

In Tokyo, former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa suggested after North Korea's April 5 rocket launch, suspected as a test for long-range ballistic missile technologies, that Japan should promote discussions on the possibility of possessing nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang followed the rocket launch with a nuclear test in late May and the regional tensions have prompted increasingly hawkish opinions among Japanese lawmakers on the country's defense policies.

A draft of Japan's new defense policy guidelines covering fiscal 2010 through 2014 calls for the reinforcement of defense personnel and equipment in view of mounting concerns over North Korea's nuclear tests as well as the rise of China as a major military power.

The draft also alludes to Tokyo's intention to consider whether it should be capable of striking enemy bases. Japan's pacifist Constitution limits its military to defensive operations.

Referring to the Yang-Nakasone talks, Japanese government sources said it must have been the first time that China has mentioned such ''nuclear debate'' within Japan in ministerial-level talks.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on July 2, 2009)