The Straits Times says

Japan's need for defence and diplomacy

The immediate effect of Japan passing security legislation, to enable its troops to fight abroad for the first time since World War II, is all too predictable. China has responded with loaded historical allusions to Japan's wartime role and its pacifist Constitution thereafter - a Xinhua editorial argued that the new legislation " broke Japan's promise to the world after World War II". South Korea's call to Japan to maintain the spirit of the pacifist Constitution is relatively muted, but North Korea has accused Japan of being "obsessed with an anachronistic ambition for reinvasion".

One would expect the danger of Japanese remilitarisation to haunt North-east Asian people to some degree as they bore the brunt of imperial Nippon's teeming atrocities during the war. Their South-east Asian counterparts too, including those in Malaya and Singapore, are unlikely to forget the terror visited on their region by an invasion and an occupation carried out under the cynical veneer of freeing Asia from Western colonialism. If those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, there is good reason for Asian countries to resist any revisionist attempt to consign Japan's wartime past to a locked antechamber of history. Indeed, the strident opposition to the legislation within Japan itself shows that progressive and liberal opinion is opposed to any reincarnation of an abhorred past.

At the same time, Japan as it exists today does face challenges to its security that its leaders cannot wish away. The very Pyongyang that berates Tokyo for harbouring wartime ambitions is responsible for a nuclear programme that counts among the chief threats to Asian security. Beijing's military assertiveness in the East China and South China seas belies the moral high ground that it adopts in criticising moves towards a more muscular Tokyo.

Other Asians, who are aware of the danger from big powers trying to stamp their exclusive strategic imprints on a diverse region, are more likely to adopt a realistic reading of the Japanese situation. Japan has the right to defend itself, but transparency in how exactly it plans to do so would help to stabilise the region. Since new capabilities create new intentions in the military sphere, transparency would reduce the scope for distrust and an arms race following the passage of the new law.

Japan now owes it to the region to pursue peace diplomacy with similar vigour. Having put its self-imposed ban on collective self-defence behind it, Tokyo must convince others that it will use its enhanced military reach responsibly. Even its involvement in peacekeeping activities would be scrutinised closely with its strategic end goals in sight. Security is not negotiable, but the government of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must not go down in history for having enacted the seed of war legislation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Japan's need for defence and diplomacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe