Op-Ed Contributors

The shadow of a hawkish Japan

Updated: 2010-12-22 08:06

By Wu Jinan (China Daily)

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A new defense outline is taking the country further away from its pacifist constitution and may lead to regional instability

On Dec 17, Japan adopted its new National Defense Program Guidelines. This is the fourth since the guidelines were formulated in 1976 and will guide Japan's defense drive in the next decade.

Japan has so far endorsed three defense guidelines. The 1976 guidelines adopted the "concept of basic and fundamental defense capability", calling for the maintenance of the minimum but high-quality Self-Defense Forces (SDF) necessary for dealing with "limited and small-scale aggressions".

The 1995 guidelines said Japan will maintain the basic national defense policy, cope with large-scale disasters by conducting relief activities, and further promote international peacekeeping activities.

While analyzing Japan's surrounding security environment, the 2004 guidelines paid particular attention to new threats, including international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. It also gave equal importance to the SDF's participation in international operations with defense of the homeland.

The latest, coming on the back of the largest US-Japan joint military exercises in history from Dec 3-10, is the first concerning Japan's defense build-up since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in September 2009.

What are the characteristics of the new defense outline? What information does the new strategy want to send to the international community?

First, the new policy of "dynamic defense" replaces the original decade-old concept of "basic defense force". It pays more attention to deployment of forces in areas with major threats, as well as the forces' maneuverability and capability in rapid reaction.

While cutting the number of SDF defensive weapons, such as tanks and artilleries, it clearly strengthens naval and air forces, including deploying Patriot-3 anti-missile systems throughout the country, increasing the number of submarines from 16 to 22 and improve the performance of Aegis frigates. This means the Japanese SDF will become more aggressive.

Second, it baldly plays up the so-called "China threat". While analyzing security situation in East Asia, the 2004 guidelines said Japan should pay close attention to Russia and China, both of which possess nuclear weapons, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea that hadn't given up developing nuclear weapons. However, the new guidelines call China's normal military development "a matter of concern for the region and the international community".

Meanwhile, the guidelines will, for the first time, shift its defense capabilities to the southern Japanese archipelago and islands in the southwest, and will double operational airplanes deployed in Okinawa by the Air Self-Defense Force. It also stresses the deepening of defense cooperation with the United States, the Republic of Korea, Australia and other countries. Japan's intention to jointly contain China is crystal clear.

It also says Tokyo will further develop relations with Beijing and encourage China to become a responsible member in the international community. But by assuming China as an imaginary enemy, the consensus that "China and Japan are not each other's threat", reached by heads of both countries, will be undermined and mutual dependence will suffer serious damage.

A report in Japan said the new guidelines had even intended to revise the principles that guide weapon exports, but it didn't happen, thanks to the efforts of opposing parties.

However, the guidelines stressed it would take proper measures to comply with the global trend of weapon development. There is still possibility of revising the principles in the future.

Again, the guidelines aroused deep concern among the international community, especially Japan's neighbors. They are watching closely which direction Japan will take under this new outline.

As one of the chief initiators of World War II, Japan has inflicted untold sufferings upon people in its neighboring countries. After the war, Japan upheld the basic principle of "peaceful country", obliging itself with peaceful principles preventing military expansion. The pacifist constitution is Japan's solemn promise to the world.

However, there have always been contrasting voices against that promise. Inside the ruling and opposition parties, the shadow of a fierce hawk is emerging. Advocates of breaking the peaceful principles and making Japan a "normal country" are casting ever greater influence.

Japan, particularly in the new century, has greatly lowered the threshold for sending military forces abroad. It has even accomplished making legal preparations for a war.

In some sense, the hawkish force in Japan is flexing its muscles through the new guidelines. Japan will not be content to only maintain "basic and fundamental defense capability", and even a government deficit will not stop its ambition to expand naval and air power.

The pacifist constitution, the solemn promise of Japan to the world, is as fragile as a scrap of paper. The breaking of the promise seems to be only a matter of time. How can this power help to maintain peace and stability in East Asia?

The author is a researcher in Shanghai Institute of International Studies.


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