TOKYO -- Japan's foreign minister said Tuesday that the country should openly debate whether to develop its own nuclear deterrent following North Korea's atomic test, while stressing that the government doesn't support such a move.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a parliamentary committee that the Japanese government would stick to its three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, developing or allowing nuclear bombs on Japanese soil.
"As the government, there is no change to those principles," he said, stressing his adherence to the policy a week after stirring controversy by saying Japan should consider the nuclear option to counter the threat posed by Pyongyang's October 9 atomic test.
But he said the regional security environment has changed since the policy were introduced in the 1960s.
"It's only natural to discuss how we should cope with the changing environment around us," Aso said. "I'm not in favor of suppressing a debate over whether we should or should not possess nuclear (bombs) or stick to the three non-nuclear principles."
Possession of nuclear weapons is a sensitive political issue in Japan, which suffered a nuclear attack when US atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Other Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma, were more cautious.
Kyuma, attending the parliamentary committee with Aso, said the timing is not right for a debate.
"A debate when the issue is boiling could cause misunderstanding. It should be discussed calmly," he said.
Abe last Wednesday said Tokyo had no plans to stray from its postwar non-nuclear policy, trying to stem the debate hours after Aso said lack of nuclear policy debate is odd, though Tokyo should observe its non-nuclear principles.
Aso's comment is only the latest among Japanese leaders calling for debate of the nuclear option. A ruling party leader Shoichi Nakagawa caused a stir earlier this month for making similar remarks. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has also proposed Japan consider acquiring nuclear weapons.
Analysts say Japan has the knowledge and stockpile from its nuclear power program to easily build weapons if it decides to.
Such a move would be opposed by Japan's neighbors, including China.