The View From Asia

Japan's bid to end pacifism

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to pave the way for Japan's military to take limited offensive action, a first since the end of World War II, have stoked debate at home and among its neighbours. Here are excerpts of Asia News Network commentaries.

Abe gambles on warmongering

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a gambler. In domestic politics, he has won more often than he has lost. But now he is throwing the dice more wildly with dangerous issues at stake.

In Japan's annual defence White Paper on Tuesday, China was described as a threat in escalating regional tensions, which is apparently a move to drum up support for the controversial security legislation.

Last week, he rammed a series of controversial security-related Bills through a special committee of the Lower House of the Japanese Parliament. If the full Diet, or Parliament, approves them, Japan's armed forces will be free to operate outside their borders for the first time since the end of World War II.

This issue is far greater than any comparable action taken by any German government because, unlike every German chancellor from Konrad Adenauer to Angela Merkel, Japan has never truly faced up to its genocidal aggression in China and other Asian countries from 1937 to 1945 that cost more than 20 million lives.

The US has not heeded China's warnings and taken no steps to rein Mr Abe in. On the contrary, US President Barack Obama and his lieutenants are encouraging him.

But both Mr Obama and Mr Abe are disastrously wrong.

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces at the Hyakuri air base in Ibaraki prefecture last October. The Lower House has rammed through security Bills which will now be taken up in the Upper House. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

First, Mr Abe's move is not supported by his own people. With continuing peace and prosperity and a low birth rate, Japanese people today do not share Mr Abe's antiquated dreams of militarist glory. Polls show that well over

half the Japanese public rejects his drive to abolish Article 9 of the post-war Constitution.

Since his spend-and-borrow economic policies are driving the Japanese economy ever closer to an unprecedented crisis, Mr Abe could be in for an unprecedented public rejection, only a few months after his greatest electoral victory.

Second, Mr Abe is biting off far more than he can chew. Japanese policymakers have entirely forgotten the lessons they learnt the hard way against China and the United States during World War II - that it is far easier to get sucked into a war overseas than to end it.

Mr Abe's moves to open the way to sell large numbers of weapons to other East Asian states will, no doubt, be good news to Japanese industrialists and arms manufacturers in the short term. But it will inevitably lead Japan into trying to prop up a range of governments against domestic as well as external threats that will have nothing to do with China.

Japan has an excellent navy but its army remains relatively small.

Japan simply lacks the size, the resources and the national attitude to try to impose its will on the societies of East Asia in the 21st century.

The Japanese Prime Minister's policy is certain to backfire on the US, too, for any gains Japan's companies make by selling arms to Asia-Pacific states will be at the expense of the US.

Need for joint military exercises

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Enhancing the security-related legal framework alone is of limited significance when it comes to improving Japan's deterrent capabilities. Only if the Self-Defence Forces carry out joint exercises with the armed forces of other countries can the effectiveness of the legislative arrangements be guaranteed.

The Ground Self-Defence Force is participating for the first time in joint US-Australian war games in northern Australia. The large-scale exercise involves about 30,000 troops.

Besides Japan and the US, Australia is also concerned over the maritime advances by Chinese forces in the South China Sea and Western Pacific.

Late last month, the Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) and the Philippine navy jointly carried out operations under the assumption of a search-and-rescue mission for stricken vessels in the vicinity of the Philippine island of Palawan in the South China Sea. The MSDF dispatched a P3-C reconnaissance plane for the first time.

The area where the exercise took place is near the Spratly (Nansha) Islands, where China has been unilaterally building artificial islands on reefs.

In addition, the MSDF plans to take part in joint exercises with the US and Indian navies in the Indian Ocean in October, for the first time in eight years.

If the security-related Bills that passed the House of Representatives are enacted, the MSDF will be able to engage in such operations as providing protection for US warships and conducting supply and transportation activities with higher degrees of manoeuvrability and flexibility. The MSDF will also be able to provide troops of other countries with logistic and other support.

Japan should deepen its defence cooperation with its only ally, the US. This should be coupled with efforts to expand Japan's multi-layered ties of cooperation with such friendly countries as Australia and those in South-east Asia.

Help to deter N. Korea threat

The Korea Herald

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stayed firm on his path towards enacting controversial security Bills by September despite surging parliamentary and public opposition.

In a statement, South Korea reaffirmed that it would not tolerate Japanese military activities on the Korean Peninsula without its prior consent.

In the months ahead, Seoul needs to hold close consultations with Tokyo to ensure its consent should also precede Japan's military operations against North Korea.

Seoul is now required to take a sophisticated strategic approach to Japan's security legislation.

Despite the memory of Japan's past militarism that colonised the peninsula in the early 20th century, Mr Abe's move to expand Tokyo's military role in the framework

of its alliance with Washington will help deter provocations from North Korea.

On the other hand, it may heighten caution from China against South Korea's closer linkage to the strengthened US-Japan alliance, which Beijing sees is aimed at keeping its growing power in check.

Under these circumstances, Seoul officials may find room for inducing China to be more active in curbing Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

  • 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
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Abe gambles on warmongering Need for joint military exercises Help to deter N. Korea threat Japan's bid to end pacifism'. Print Edition | Subscribe