1 KT: What do you think are the threats or potential threats in the current security of Southeast Asia region?
Dr Morimoto: The threats include the continuing trade war between the US and China, international terrorism and hostile countries such as Iran and North Korea. China poses a threat to Taiwan as well as Japan’s southwest islands. China’s strategy is to protect its national interests, especially Hainan, which is strategic base for the Chinese navy.
2 KT: Currently, China and Japan seem to share a good relationship. Can you explain why?
Dr Morimoto: The relationship between the nations is fostered from an economic perspective; through trade and investment. Approximately $350 billion worth of goods are traded annually between China and Japan, representing one of the largest trading partnerships around the globe. Not only are the trade ties strong, but there is also a huge number of inter-investment between corporations in both countries.
3 KT: Do the goods trade and economic relationships between the two countries pave the way for better mutual trust in terms of security?
Dr Morimoto: Yes and no. The US and Japan have shared a very strong alliance since the end of World War II in terms of security ties. We also have strong economic ties with the US due to it being a huge market for Japanese automobiles. Our security ties with China, on the other hand are challenging, especially since China has been sending its government ships to the Senkaku Islands, which they have been claiming sovereignty over since 1971, even after we bought the islands as a national asset in 2012.
4 KT: What is the general response from the Japanese people toward China’s action in the Senkaku Islands?
Dr Morimoto: We have sent coast guard ships to defend our territory temporarily. We told them [China] not to invade our territory. Yet, Chinese coast guard ships are larger in both size and number. We deployed grunt forces to the five main islands to defend the area from China. The US forces are joining us as our ally.
5 KT: Is there any other way for Japan and China to settle this dispute without conflict?
Dr Morimoto: No, this is our territory and we are by no means willing to compromise with China. The conflict will continue as long as China keeps sending its ships. We, in cooperation with the US, will defend our land.
6 KT: How about Japan’s relationship with Russia?
Dr Morimoto: Our Prime Minister [Shinzo Abe] has been holding diplomatic negotiations with Russia over the return of the Kuril Islands to Japan. However, Russia keeps saying no. We have had more than 30 meetings with President Vladimir Putin to no avail. It seems they fear if they return the islands to Japan. Japan will allow US forces to deploy in the area. This is not wrong because the US has no intention of deploying its troops in the area.
The US has never interfered in the dispute between Japan and Russia either. We want to end this without conflict, but Russia has a strong sense of nationalism. The Russian people believe their government is in no way obligated to return the islands to Japan even though we are willing to pay a lot of money for them. We are always open to negotiations.
7 KT: Is North Korea a threat to Japan?
Dr Morimoto: North Korea has nuclear missile development projects. We do not know how many they have but the CIA estimates they have between 35 and 60. North Korea holds firm its stance and thus is a threat against western countries. However, we remain skeptical about their capability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles given the amount of protection protocols these days. We do not have territorial issues with North Korea but we have put up a defence system as a precaution.