In a Hannity & Colmes interview last year devoted mostly to attacking U.S. efforts to control North Korea under President Bill Clinton, Senator John McCain—now a leading Republican presidential candidate—said if the United Nations doesn’t do enough to control North Korea, Japan will have to “rearm.” And he said, puzzlingly, that something he refers to as “it” would be in China’s interest … referring to Taiwan! Here’s the quote, from October 11, 2006:
HANNITY: Senator, you know, just as we’re coming on the air here tonight, Japan is suspecting that North Korea, in fact, conducted a second nuclear test. And, as we think about this, what is the answer here? Is the answer that we worked through the United Nations or is a stronger answer that we rearm Japan, that we offer them some type of missile defense, and perhaps they even become nuclear-prepared?
MCCAIN: If the United Nations, because of China and Russia, do not invoke the strictest form of sanctions, that will affect our relations with both countries in a variety of ways. It is in China’s interest, not for any reason other than it’s not in China’s interest to see an escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula.
Yes, the Japanese would have to rearm. The Japanese would have to acquire defensive weapons. What happens with Taiwan? The whole area could be in jeopardy of some kind of conflagration. That’s why it’s in China’s interest. [emphasis mine]
And, by the way, they control the food, and they control the oil that goes into North Korea. And they could exercise that if they want to.
So first the United Nations sanctions. But China has got to play a greater role. And they’ve been doing pretty well.
HANNITY: Rearming Japan, a resolution to defend Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, that would all be in the areas that you would suggest to the president at this particular point, remind the Chinese that, in fact, the Olympics are coming?
MCCAIN: Yes. And I would also make it clear to the Chinese that we’re not happy with some things, like the currency exchange. We’re not happy with their repression of democracy. We’re not happy with their failure to progress recently on a path to a free and open society.
And we will continue our steadfast belief that Taiwan will only be reunited to China if it’s done in a peaceful manner and the people of Taiwan desire to do so. Until then, we will protect them.
This second answer looks like an exercise in unloading predetermined China talking points. It strikes the usual ambiguous note on Taiwan.
But let’s take the bolded statement apart. He says Japan would have to “rearm” and “acquire defensive weapons,” when in fact Japan already has defensive weapons, and U.S. patriot missiles have been deployed in Okinawa since June 2006. Rearming could mean replacing current weapons with other, similar ones. More likely it means bringing Japan’s level of armament back to a higher, former level. Given McCain’s invocation of a possible regional “conflagration” that could involve Taiwan, we can only assume he means revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and giving Japan the right to engage in collective self defense.
It’s entirely unclear to me whether he means that rearming Japan would be in China’s interest or that a strong U.N. reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test is in its interest because anything less would lead to rearming Japan.
It would be nice to ask some follow-ups now that the North Korea situation has cooled off.