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The View From Asia

Japan's security laws and regional fears

Tokyo's policy shift to build its self-defence capability has neighbours edgy, as these excerpts from two commentaries show.

Concern over S-E Asia stability

Azhari Setiawan
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

East Asia's geopolitical dynamics have become a concern to Japan. The concerns come from economic ties with China, an increasingly assertive China and North Korea, the increasing engagement of the United States in the security realm and balancing trends by states in East Asia.

Japan's controversial security Bills have passed the Upper House of the Diet, ushering in a new era in Japanese security policy that allows the country to deploy its military overseas and play a much more prominent strategic role in peacekeeping and collective self-defence. This move represents a significant shift in post-war defence policy away from the limited use of force and pacifist sentiment expressed in the Constitution to a more expansive interpretation.

Publications from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report that the Bills include a number of important policy changes. The most significant is undoubtedly the use of collective self-defence, which allows Japan to deploy its military in support of the US and other countries in situations that have an "important influence on Japan's peace and security".

Before, the use of force was permitted only in the event of a direct armed attack against Japan.

Japan's security transformations are not only aimed to confront North Korea and China, but have larger virtues that include the proactive pursuit of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. However, Japan's new security policy could be of serious concern for East Asia's stability.

In South-east Asia, there are two focus points for Japan. Those are the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea.


Japanese submarine JS Oyashio at Subic port in the Philippines earlier this month. Japan's new security policy could be of serious concern for East Asia's stability, says the writer in The Jakarta Post. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The Malacca Strait is one of the world's most vulnerable areas because of its high potential for conflict. Every year, billions of dollars' worth of goods and services pass through the region. By using the Malacca Strait, the Japanese petroleum industry saves millions of dollars annually. The number of transnational organised crime groups in the Malacca Strait is a big issue for major powers such as the US, the United Kingdom, India, China and Japan.

This threatens Indonesia - not only territorially, but also in the larger sense of stability in South-east Asia.

To beat this threat, Indonesia must secure its territory, its own straits. We can't imagine what the Malacca Strait or the South China Sea would become if each of these major powers established a military base there.

Japan's new development might potentially boost enthusiasm for the idea of an Indo-Pacific security architecture that involves a stronger Japan to balance China's power in the region.

Indonesia is in the middle of a rivalry. Asean's position on Japan's security policy remains unclear.

The Asean Regional Forum is the only forum that can make China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea sit at the same table and talk.

Indonesia and Asean are "referees". However, Asean also has problems in the cohesion of its member nations, especially when dealing with the relations of a major power such as China with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Cohesiveness is Asean's primary means of maintaining stability in the region.

Indonesia has a major role, as the "Asean leader", to pursue an understanding with Laos - as Asean's next summit host - to work together in the name of Asean to maintain South-east Asia's stability.

As the "leader of Asean", Indonesia should intensify its relationships with Japan, China, and the US by strengthening economic cooperation and partnerships.

Asean Free Trade mechanisms and other economic partnerships like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership would stabilise Japanese, Chinese and US influences in South-east Asia, and could even regulate how Japan, China and the US act towards each other.

Era brimming with uncertainties

Editorial
China Daily, China

On Monday, a radar station on Japan's Yonaguni Island manned by about 160 Self-Defence Forces (SDF) personnel went into service, about 150km from the Diaoyu Islands.

On Tuesday, Japan's controversial new national security laws took effect.

In theory, and in the official rhetoric, neither move is targeted specifically at China.

But it would be dangerous to look aside from the game-changing potential of such moves.

Militarisation of the south-western-most island of Japan is only the beginning of a wider military build-up along the Japanese island chain.

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition holding a commanding majority in both Houses of the Diet, the demise of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution seems to be just a matter of time.

Worrisome changes will ensue, including in the South China Sea. Sending SDF vessels to patrol there will mean readiness to confront China on a broader front.

With Mr Abe trying desperately to put the South China Sea issue on the table of the upcoming Group of Seven summit, Beijing should not let the vain hope for "friendship" get in its way of coping with a now-very-different Japan. A Japan that seems prepared for long-term confrontation with China.

Talks with Tokyo are fine, as long as they are conducive to preventing or managing a crisis. But our policies should always be grounded in what is happening, not what we wish would happen.

The truth is that China-Japan relations have just reached a watershed, and they are entering an era brimming with uncertainties.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.net

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'Japan's security laws and regional fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe