Could Abe’s militarization bill be a threat to peace?
In the lead up to V – J Day and during the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a speech in which he states, “This morning as we mark 70 years since the atomic bombing, I once more profoundly contemplate how precious peace is.”
This is at a time when the parliamentary session has been extended until 27th September and politicians are debating the introduction of Abe’s new Militarization bill and a repeal of the constitution’s pacifist Article 9.
The package of 11 security concerned bills – which is endorsed by the United States – expands the role of the military to enable a limited ability to fight in foreign conflicts and to support allies who require assistance.
This has been pushed through the lower house on the premise that it is being enforced for the preservation of peace in the Asia pacific region, in addition to overseas where allies are currently in conflict. This indicates to us that the Japanese have recognized the growing tensions in the region and have decided to take action. The irony is however that, by developing its military capabilities; Japan is potentially opening itself up to further threat or attack.
Currently, there is no doubt that Japan’s biggest threat is rival power, China. The tensions between these two nations came to a head in 2012 with the territorial dispute over the Senkaku islands.
The eight uninhabited islands are of importance to both parties due to their rich fishing grounds, potential oil and gas reserves and their strategic positioning. Japan stated that their claim was legitimate, as although Japan lost much territory after WWII, the Senkaku islands came under US trusteeship and were then later returned to Japan.
The Japanese government has also pointed out that China took no issue with the resolutions made in the Post War ‘San Francisco deal’ until the 1970s when the possibility of oil resources came to light. The 2012 conflict which began due to the purchase of the islands by the Japanese government from private owners resulted in multiple protests which often ended in anti-Japanese violence and vandalism.
In June, the Chinese Foreign ministry announced that China intended to complete a series of highly controversial land reclamation initiatives in the South China Sea. Nations with competing claims including the US have accused China of creating artificial islands on which they plan to construct military bases. China has also been reported to have purchased a second aircraft carrier in a move to multiply its armed forces.
Meanwhile, high ranking officials are expressing much apprehension concerning the increasingly Nationalist outlook of the Japanese government. Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi has said in a statement, “At this moment when the world’s people are reflecting on history and yearning for peace, we sincerely urge the Japanese side to learn from historical lessons in real concrete terms, stay committed to the path of peaceful development, honor the major security concerns of Asian neighbors and refrain from doing things that do not facilitate regional peace and stability.” This measured response is an interesting contrast to their own arguably aggressive actions.
These steps for a stronger Chinese military must also be seen in the context of the anti-Japanese sentiment which has historically been an issue. As reported by Matthew Forney for Time in 2005, Japan is allegedly often portrayed as being “a nation of “devils,” a slur used without embarrassment in polite Chinese society.” This portrayal is enforced by what could be argued to be the indoctrination of children. “Thousands of students each day, for instance, take class trips to the Anti-Japanese War Museum in Beijing to view grainy photos of war atrocities—women raped and disemboweled, corpses of children stacked like cordwood.” Additionally, “Grade School text books… credit the Communist Party with defeating Japan.”
The knowledge of these activities and the fact that China is estimated to have between 240 and 3000 nuclear war heads (although we cannot ascertain the exact number and it is unlikely that they will use them,) causes the Japanese population to understandably be fearful of rising tensions.
However, despite this threat, public opinion is overwhelming against the introduction of the new militarization bill. Polls indicate that around 80 per cent of the population have concerns about the finer details of the bill and oppose it.
Protests are occurring daily, the activists citing issues such as the unconstitutional nature of developing a military force (despite the existence of Article 9,) the possible risk of an active conflict and even the possibility of the introduction of conscription. The concern lies in the idea that once one law has been altered; there will be a butterfly effect of unconstitutional acts which will endanger the future peace of Japan.
Abe’s response to these concerns was simply to say, “Unfortunately, the Japanese people still don’t have a substantial understanding” of the bills and that “These are absolutely necessary bills in order to protect the lives of Japanese people and prevent wars.”
As the US government cuts back on its armed forces and against the backdrop of the increasingly militarily resurgent activities of China, the Japanese government clearly believe that there is a need for change in their benevolent nature, and will tirelessly push on to achieve it.