November 26, 2019
Tokyo--Pope Francis' visit to Japan has highlighted the gap between Tokyo and the Vatican over nuclear weapons, although the two sides share the ultimate goal of abolishing nuclear arms.
While the pope said that even nuclear deterrence should not be tolerated, the Japanese government sticks to its position that the deterrence is necessary at least for the time being.
"As the only country that has suffered nuclear bombings in war, Japan has a mission to lead efforts by the international community to realize a world without nuclear weapons," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a meeting with foreign ambassadors attended by the pope.
Delivering a speech after Abe, the pope called for utilizing all possible measures in order not to repeat devastation by nuclear bombs ever again. No gap was seen between the attitudes of the two leaders toward nuclear weapons during the meeting.
But the pope criticized nuclear deterrence in his speech in Hiroshima on Sunday. He asked, "How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of nuclear war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?"
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the two Japanese cities devastated by the U.S. atomic bombings in the closing days of World War II. The pope visited both cities Sunday.
His criticism apparently targeted not only the nuclear powers but also Japan, which depends on the nuclear deterrence provided by the United States.
Facing the threat of nuclear weapons including from North Korea, Japan takes the position that the nuclear deterrence is the foundation of its national security.
"It is a pragmatic and appropriate option for Japan to maintain and strengthen the deterrent power extended by the United States, including nuclear weapons," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference Monday, effectively voicing opposition to the pope.
The government and the pope are also at odds over the U.N. nuclear weapons ban treaty.
In his speeches in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the pope underlined the importance of putting the landmark treaty into force.
But Suga said the treaty was drafted without reflecting reality sufficiently. Because of that, it has not won support from nuclear haves or have-nots, he said, reiterating Tokyo's negative stance toward ratifying it.
According to Japanese government sources, some government officials were initially set to join a meeting between Abe and the pope that was held in Tokyo on Monday. At the request of the Vatican, however, only interpreters joined the meeting.
Opposition parties are critical of the government's stance toward the pope.
"The Japanese government must take seriously remarks by the pope, one of the world's top religious leaders," said Akira Koike, head of the Japanese Communist Party's secretariat.
"Japan will end up turning its back on history and the world if it disregards his message as the only nation that has suffered nuclear bombings," he added. Jiji Press
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