Japan has the technological know-how to produce a nuclear weapon but has no immediate plans to do so, the foreign minister said Thursday, several weeks after communist North Korea carried out a nuclear test.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who has called for discussion of Japan's non-nuclear policy, also asserted in parliament that the pacifist constitution does not forbid possession of the bomb.
"Japan is capable of producing nuclear weapons," Aso told a parliamentary committee on security issues. "But we are not saying we have plans to possess nuclear weapons."
Japan, the only country ever attacked by atomic weapons, has for decades espoused a strict policy of not possessing, developing or allowing the introduction of nuclear bombs on its territory.
Aso's comments appear to be stronger than those made last month by Defense Minister Fimio Kyuma, who stated that Japan has "advanced technology and missile capabilities so perhaps we do have the potential to make nuclear arms."
The non-nuclear stance has come under increasing scrutiny since North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, which raised severe security concerns in Japan.
The test has raised fears it could trigger a regional arms race. The North's nuclear test followed Pyongyang's test firing of several ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto of pacifist opposition Social Democratic Party, criticized Aso for supporting open debate over a possession of nuclear weapons amid such concerns.
"International community is greatly concerned about Japan's plutonium possession," she said. "As foreign minister, Mr. Aso, are you aware of global impact of saying it's not bad to discuss nuclear possession under the circumstances?"
Aso, however, denied he was fanning the debate.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asserted several times since the test that Japan would not stray from its non-nuclear policy, and he has refused to initiate a formal review of that stance.
Several high-ranking government and ruling party members, however, including Aso, have argued for a high-level reappraisal of the nuclear policy in light of the North Korean threat.
In a hearing before the lower house of parliament's Security Committee, Aso reiterated his belief that the constitution's pacifist clause does not prevent Japan from having nuclear bombs for the purpose of defense.
The constitution's Article 9 bars Japan from the use of force to settle international disputes.
"Possession of minimum level of arms for defense is not prohibited under the Article 9 of the Constitution," Aso said. "Even nuclear weapons, if there are any that fall within that limit, they are not prohibited."