Ja­pan seeks bet­ter eco­nomic ties with China

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W -

Edi­tor’s Note:

De­pen­dent on the US for mil­i­tary se­cu­rity for decades, Ja­pan has been ad­just­ing its se­cu­rity pol­icy since 2010. How will Ja­pan’s move to­ward an au­ton­o­mous se­cu­rity pol­icy in­flu­ence Asian sta­bil­ity? Lionel Fat­ton (Fat­ton), fel­low at the Charhar In­sti­tute, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Web­ster Univer­sity Geneva and re­search col­lab­o­ra­tor at the Re­search In­sti­tute for the His­tory of Global Arms Trans­fer at Tokyo-based Meiji Univer­sity, gave his views on the sit­u­a­tion Ja­pan faces in an in­ter­view with Global Times (GT) reporter Xu Hailin dur­ing the Charhar In­sti­tute’s re­cent sem­i­nar on Ja­pan’s se­cu­rity pol­icy and US Asia pol­icy in Bei­jing. GT: What does Ja­pan’s au­ton­o­mous se­cu­rity pol­icy mean to Asia, espe­cially North­east Asia, and how will it af­fect re­gional se­cu­rity? Fat­ton: It is not a full au­ton­omy. Ja­pan is just be­com­ing a bit more au­ton­o­mous - it is a trend rather than a fi­nal­ity.

Re­gard­ing the sta­bil­ity of the re­gion, it will de­pend on how Ja­pan com­mu­ni­cates with other coun­tries. The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment re­gards it­self as purely de­fen­sive. But it is un­der­stand­able that China, South Korea, and North Korea feel threat­ened by the devel­op­ment of Ja­panese mil­i­tary power be­cause of the his­tory and ter­ri­to­rial ten­sion be­tween South Korea and Ja­pan, as well as be­tween China and Ja­pan.

There­fore, whether this grad­ual move to­ward au­ton­omy will be desta­bi­liz­ing de­pends to a great ex­tent on Tokyo’s abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate prop­erly with Bei­jing, Seoul and Py­ongyang to con­vey that the move is de­fen­sive.

Ja­pan doesn’t want to re­turn to its past ex­pan­sion­ist ways and put feet on the con­ti­nent to in­vade. The cred­i­bil­ity of US com­mit­ment to de­fend Ja­pan has been de­clin­ing. So, Ja­pan must take more re­spon­si­bil­ity for its own de­fense, but it doesn’t mean it will be ag­gres­sive.

The prob­lem is that the right­ist Ja­panese gov­ern­ment has not for­mu­lated this nar­ra­tive. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and his regime have not ac­com­pa­nied their devel­op­ment of mil­i­tary power with the right nar­ra­tive to re­as­sure other coun­tries. So, if Ja­pan can­not for­mu­late this nar­ra­tive, it can trig­ger in­sta­bil­i­ties in the re­gion. GT: If Ja­pan’s se­cu­rity pol­icy is de­fen­sive, why is Abe bent on re­vis­ing Ar­ti­cle 9 of the Ja­panese con­sti­tu­tion that re­nounces war and pro­hibits Ja­pan from main­tain armed forces for of­fen­sive rea­sons? Fat­ton: Ar­ti­cle 9 is re­spected and cher­ished by the Ja­panese. That’s why it’s very dif­fi­cult for Abe to re­vise the con­sti­tu­tion. Abe wants to re­vise it be­cause in the first place he has to ful­fill the pledge of his own party. The Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) of Ja­pan was cre­ated in 1955. Con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion has been men­tioned in the found­ing char­ter of the party. It’s an ob­jec­tive of the party since 1955 and Abe wants to re­al­ize that ob­jec­tive.

Abe is some­how a prime min­is­ter that is pretty hawk­ish, but he is not the worst. There are some peo­ple in the LDP who are even more on the right than Abe. He also wants to sat­isfy them. There­fore, by re­vis­ing the con­sti­tu­tion and in­clud­ing the ex­is­tence of the Selfde­fense Forces in the con­sti­tu­tion, Abe would gain greater in­ter­nal party sup­port. GT: Abe re­port­edly wanted to me­di­ate in the Korean Penin­sula stand­off. Af­ter the G20 sum­mit, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vis­ited South Korea and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the De­mil­i­ta­rized Zone. What will be the changes to Ja­pan’s role in the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is­sue? Fat­ton: Ja­pan lags be­hind on the Korean Penin­sula nu­clear is­sue. It doesn’t have a place at the ta­ble. The only tool Ja­pan has used to get in­volved in the talks be­tween the US and North Korea are eco­nomic sanc­tions.

Ja­pan is much more hawk­ish than the US in im­ple­ment­ing UN sanc­tions on North Korea, and they thought that by be­ing tough with the sanc­tions, North Korea would agree to talk. But it doesn’t seem to work.

Abe re­cently said he is will­ing to meet with Kim with­out any pre­con­di­tions. But be­fore, he said there should be progress on the is­sue of Ja­panese cit­i­zens ab­ducted by North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s be­fore he and Kim met.

Now, Abe re­ally wants to meet with Kim, but he doesn’t have a lot of things to of­fer. Be­cause those dic­tat­ing the tempo of the is­sue are Trump and Kim. Even South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jaein doesn’t re­ally dic­tate the tempo. The only thing Abe could of­fer North Korea would be to ease sanc­tions. To ease sanc­tions, the ap­proval of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil is

needed, but Ja­pan is not a per­ma­nent mem­ber. GT: Af­ter Trump’s re­cent trip to Ja­pan and South Korea, will the alliance be­tween th­ese three coun­tries be re­in­forced, espe­cially be­tween South Korea and Ja­pan? Fat­ton: The tri­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship is in a bad shape. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ja­pan and the US has weak­ened, be­cause Trump has put a lot of pres­sure on Ja­pan to ne­go­ti­ate a new free trade agree­ment. It’s not a trade war like the one the US launched against China. But still, Trump has said he would im­pose 25 per­cent tar­iffs on Ja­panese car im­ports to the US. It’s a big threat.

The worst is be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea. This is the big­gest de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions since the end of the Pa­cific War. Not only is there the “com­fort women” is­sue, but also the is­sue of forced la­bor. The South Korean court has or­dered Ja­pan’s Nip­pon Steel Cor­po­ra­tion and Mit­subishi Heavy In­dus­tries to com­pen­sate, but Ja­pan has re­fused be­cause of the 1965 Treaty on Ba­sic Re­la­tions be­tween Ja­pan and the Repub­lic of Korea that sup­pos­edly solved this prob­lem. Be­sides, there’s also the radar dis­pute last year when a South Korean war­ship al­legedly locked its radar on a Ja­panese sur­veil­lance plane. GT: Why does Ja­pan talk less about the Indo-pa­cific Strat­egy and say it will con­sider the China-pro­posed Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI)? Fat­ton: Ja­pan feels the need to come closer to China eco­nom­i­cally, be­cause Ja­pan is also un­der pres­sure by the US on trade. By get­ting closer, both coun­tries can re­in­force their po­si­tion vis-àvis the US. And to get closer to China, Ja­pan needs to make con­ces­sions.

One was the agree­ment on joint in­vest­ments in in­fras­truc­ture for third coun­tries reached dur­ing Abe’s visit to Bei­jing in Oc­to­ber 2018, which can be seen as a first for Ja­pan to par­tic­i­pate in the BRI. Ja­pan knows China does not like the “free and open” Indo-pa­cific be­cause it sounds like con­tain­ment. So, Ja­pan avoids men­tion­ing it in or­der not to of­fend China.

Illustrati­on: Liu RUI/GT

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