Ja­pan and Asian se­cu­rity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

When Shinzo Abe was elected Ja­panese prime min­is­ter in Septem­ber, he made strength­en­ing Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary an im­por­tant part of his agenda. On Dec. 15, the up­per house of the Ja­panese par­lia­ment passed a law that el­e­vates the De­fense Agency to the Min­istry of De­fense, giv­ing de­fense of­fi­cials a greater role in set­ting pol­icy. More im­por­tantly, the leg­is­la­tion opens the door to a more sig­nif­i­cant role in in­ter­na­tional peace­keep­ing mis­sions for the Ja­panese Self-De­fense Forces, which are re­stricted to only the func­tion that their name im­plies. The law by it­self does not change that na­ture of Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary; but even though more leg­is­la­tion is re­quired in or­der for Ja­pan to send forces into re­gional or in­ter­na­tional con­flicts, the law’s pas­sage is an im­por­tant step for Mr. Abe’s agenda.

Mr. Abe’s na­tion­al­ism con­cerns some crit­ics — paci­fists in Ja­pan in par­tic­u­lar, but some ob­servers in the United States as well. But it should not be con­fused with the kind of na­tion­al­ism that was har­nessed by World War II-era Ja­pan. Re­vis- ing Ar­ti­cle 9 of the Ja­panese Con­sti­tu­tion, which places re­stric­tions on Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary, is not a move to­ward mil­i­tarism, but would sim­ply al­low Ja­pan to be a “nor­mal” na­tion.

The East Asia se­cu­rity dy­namic is be­ing shifted by two fac­tors, and both are seen as threat­en­ing in Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo. The first is North Korea’s nu­clear am­bi­tion, which the United States and Ja­pan are com­mit­ted to cur­tail­ing. The sec­ond is China’s in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent in­tent to ex­ert a stronger pres­ence in the Pa­cific, which the Pen­tagon’s an­nual re­port to congress on the Chi­nese mil­i­tary notes with con- cern. As Fri­day’s vote shows, Ja­panese law­mak­ers clearly sense the threat from both. U.S. of­fi­cials have en­cour­aged Ja­pan to shed its paci­fism for some time, but the con­sen­sus that con­di­tions now de­mand that Ja­pan do so is grow­ing.

Un­der Mr. Abe, a more val­ues-based approach to for­eign pol­icy also ap­pears to be gain­ing trac­tion over the mer­can­tilist approach. A joint state­ment signed by Mr. Abe’s pre­de­ces­sor, Ju­nichiro Koizumi, and Pres­i­dent Bush this sum­mer high­lights that approach: “The United States and Ja­pan stand to­gether not only against mu­tual threats but also for the ad­vance­ment of uni­ver­sal val­ues such as free­dom, hu­man dig­nity and hu­man rights, democ­racy, mar­ket econ­omy, and the rule of law.” On the one hand, this can be read as a re­minder of the sharp dif­fer­ence be­tween Ja­pan and China — the lat­ter hav­ing con­tin­u­ally dis­ap­pointed U.S. hopes that it would be­come a “re­spon­si­ble stake­holder” in world af­fairs. But the theme of ad­vanc­ing “uni­ver­sal val­ues” has ap­peared re­peat­edly in Mr. Abe’s speeches, in­clud­ing as an un­der­pin­ning of Ja­pan’s strong re­la­tions with In­dia. This sug­gests that the pro­mo­tion of th­ese val­ues is mov­ing to­ward the fore­front of Ja­panese for­eign pol­icy, which would be an­other wel­come de­vel­op­ment.

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