One-let­ter change ends Ja­pan paci­fist po­si­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Richard Hal­lo­ran

The Ja­pan De­fense Agency has be­come the Ja­panese Min­istry of De­fense, a change in name that seems small on the sur­face but re­flects a sub­stan­tial shift in Ja­panese think­ing on na­tional se­cu­rity and is a sig­nal to po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries in North Korea and China.

In Ja­panese, the new name re­quires chang­ing only one ideogram, from “cho” to “sho.” In Ro­man­ized Ja­panese, it is but one let­ter.

In Amer­i­can English, most peo­ple­would not see much dif­fer­ence be­tween “agency” and “min­istry,” but in a na­tion of­ten driven by sym­bols, the shift re­flects a new as­sertive­ness as Ja­pan pre­pares to deal with any threats from China, of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts say.

The Diet, Ja­pan’s leg­is­la­ture, au­tho­rized the change last month with sur­pris­ingly lit­tle op­po­si­tion, given the paci­fist stance of left­wing par­ties in the past. It be­came ef­fec­tive on Jan. 9.

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe told re­porters that the name change “demon­strates both do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally the ma­tu­rity of Ja­panese democ­racy.”

Mr. Abe also said the change shows “our con­fi­dence in civil­ian con­trol. It also sends a sig­nal that Ja­pan is pre­pared to con­trib­ute even more to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and that it will take on its role re­spon­si­bly.”

North Korea and China say the move re­flects a resur­gence of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism.

The Korean Cen­tral News Agency, con­trolled by the gov­ern­ment in Py­ongyang, said turn­ing the de­fense agency into a min­istry was in­tended to re­al­ize Ja­pan’s “mil­i­tarist am­bi­tion for over­seas ex­pan­sion.”

The Peo­ple’s Daily, which is con­trolled by China’s gov­ern­ment, said the shift re­flected “a change in na­ture” for Ja­pan’s de­fense es­tab- lish­ment as it “clears bar­ri­ers for the Ja­panese armed forces on their way of go­ing be­yond self-de­fense.”

How­ever, an­a­lysts say it was bel­liger­ence from the North Kore­ans and Chi­nese that ac­cel­er­ated a Ja­panese re­vi­sion of their think­ing on mil­i­tary power and caused Tokyo to strengthen its de­fense ties with the United States.

In prac­ti­cal pol­i­tics, the di­rec­tor­gen­eral of the de­fense agency be­comes the min­is­ter of de­fense and a mem­ber of the Cabi­net that pre­sides over the ex­ec­u­tive branch of Tokyo’s gov­ern­ment.

That Cabi­net of a dozen min­is­ters drawn from the Diet is roughly the equiv­a­lent of the U.S. pres­i­dency, a fact of­ten over­looked out­side Ja­pan.

Un­til now, the head of the de­fense agency was some­what of a po­lit­i­cal nonen­tity. It had been said that the only thing a di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the agency was able to ac­com­plish po­lit­i­cally was to have a mil­i­tary band pa­rade in his home­town.

The de­fense min­is­ter, how­ever, will have more say about his min­istry’s bud­get than in the past, when it was fash­ioned largely by bu­reau­crats from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice and the Fi­nance Min­istry.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, in deal­ing with top de­fense of­fi­cials from other na­tions, the Ja­panese de­fense min­is­ter will be treated now “as an equal gov­ern­men­tal chief in both name and re­al­ity,” says Tokyo’s 2006 white pa­per on de­fense. In pres­tige-con­scious Ja­pan, this counts.

Ja­pan’s Self-De­fense Forces, how­ever, will keep their names, both in Ja­panese and in trans­la­tion. The Ja­pan Ground Self-De­fense Force will not be­come the Ja­panese army and the Ja­pan Mar­itime Self-De­fense Force will not be­come the Ja­panese navy. At least not yet; some se­nior re­tired of­fi­cers have been qui­etly lob­by­ing for those names to be re­vised, too.

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