Ja­pan’s for­eign pol­icy shifts to­ward mil­i­tarism

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - OPINION - SHAN­NON GORM­LEY

Some­how, a coun­try of vi­tal im­por­tance to Western in­ter­ests, re­gional sta­bil­ity and global se­cu­rity is man­ag­ing to hold a na­tional elec­tion of seem­ingly lit­tle im­por­tance to any­thing at all.

On Oct. 22, Ja­pan elects a new gov­ern­ment. Ex­posed to China’s dom­i­nance and North Korea’s mis­siles, many Ja­panese cit­i­zens will base their votes on for­eign pol­icy, their choice made sim­pler by the fact that the two big­gest con­tenders ap­pear to of­fer the same thing.

That thing is con­spic­u­ous mil­i­tarism. It’s a de­par­ture for the coun­try and of un­cer­tain ben­e­fit to the world.

It should hardly need say­ing that Ja­pan mat­ters, but it’s some­times imag­ined that as China’s im­por­tance rises, Ja­pan’s rel­e­vance nec­es­sar­ily de­clines. In fact, Ja­pan helps the United States limit China’s power. China gets sticky fin­gers when­ever it comes near strate­gi­cally placed is­lands in Asia, so Ja­pan has pro­vided mil­i­tary ob­servers and war­ships in sup­port of U.S. naval drills near Chi­nese wa­ters.

Ja­pan also hap­pens to have nearly as much stake in in­flu­enc­ing North Korea as any other coun­try.

Ja­pan be­ing so im­por­tant, pre­sum­ably its elec­tion might be of some in­ter­est to the world. But if Ja­pan’s lead­er­ship mer­its at­ten­tion, it can’t long es­cape any­one’s no­tice that the lead­ing cam­paigns are on the same side of the same fight.

Con­ser­va­tive Shinzo Abe has been in it for 11 years as prime min­is­ter, tak­ing on his coun­try’s post-war paci­fism as much as other threats.

No sur­prise, then, that one of Abe’s party’s cam­paign pam­phlets pledges to “de­fend this coun­try to the end.” The dan­ger is that his latest defence tac­tic may has­ten that end. The pam­phlet shows him shak­ing Don­ald Trump’s hand, ce­ment­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the odd­est cou­ple in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

Abe bets that match­ing Trump’s blus­tery ap­proach to North Korea will work — cer­tainly to help Abe get re-elected, and maybe even to keep his coun­try from get­ting dec­i­mated by a nu­clear weapon. He agrees with Trump that there has been enough talk­ing with North Korea.

Abe’s own threats to North Korea sup­ple­ment his more general threat: to re­vise Ja­pan’s paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion and re­lax lim­its on the mil­i­tary. It’s not clear that a more ag­gres­sive Ja­pan won’t pro­voke more ten­sions rather than soothe ex­ist­ing ones. But it’s un­der­stand­able that Ja­pan would want to feel less vul­ner­a­ble as China and North Korea be­come more as­sertive and more seem­ingly stark rav­ing mad, re­spec­tively.

That’s pre­sum­ably why some of Abe’s com­peti­tors aren’t fight­ing him on the spirit of his pro­pos­als — merely con­tend­ing that oth­ers should im­ple­ment them.

Those oth­ers could be mem­bers of the newly formed “Party of Hope,” which con­fronts Abe’s na­tion­al­is­tic mil­i­tarism with more na­tion­al­is­tic mil­i­tarism. Though so far the party’s founder, Tokyo Gover­nor Yuriko Koike, claims she will not run for a seat her­self, here’s her view on the paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion: Re­vise it.

On the mil­i­tary: Re­lax its lim­its. And on North Korea: Pre­tend that ag­gres­sive rhetoric is more likely to re­solve in­ter­na­tional crises rather than ex­ac­er­bate them.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween her po­si­tions and Abe’s are a dra­matic de­par­ture from Ja­pan’s re­cent his­tory. Ja­pan’s vot­ers ought to think care­fully about the con­se­quences of mak­ing mil­i­tarism of­fi­cial in a re­gion that is still com­ing to terms with their coun­try’s pre­vi­ous ag­gres­sions.

The rest of us may want to think about it, too.

In a world fac­ing chal­lenges from China and North Korea, Ja­pan mat­ters. How dis­turb­ing that its na­tional elec­tion may not. Shan­non Gorm­ley is an Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen global af­fairs colum­nist and free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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