Fed up of Japan being regarded just an economic powerhouse, he aspires for Japan to be a superpower force and that means acquiring full military and nuclear armaments to be at par with the USA, Russia, France and Germany

June 2017 Highlights &
Commentary

By Peng Khuan Fong 10/7/2017
  
Japan under Abe

Japan’s new remilitarization policy has re-opened old wounds and upset geopolitics today. The country’s move to end its 70-year post-war pacifist stance is creating tension and breaching peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
  
  
Image sourced from Macau Daily Times
Pushing the agenda is Premier Shinzo Abe, head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Born after World War 2, he belongs to the first Japanese generation with no first-hand knowledge of hardship, suffering and sacrifice arising from warfare. This accounts for his headstrong patriotism and ultra-nationalism. Fed up of Japan being regarded just an economic powerhouse, he aspires for Japan to be a superpower force and that means acquiring full military and nuclear armaments to be at par with the USA, Russia, France and Germany.

Revising Article 9

With the LDP's win in the 16 December 2016 elections, Abe wants to revise Article 9 of the national constitution to clarify the status of the country’s existing Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) as the military is called. Abe declared the constitution not "immortal" and wants to re-arm Japan again. Analysts say he is paving the way for more amendments to come. China, South Korea, the ASEAN community and other countries are understandably concerned as it signals the possible end of the uninterrupted peace and security which has prevailed since World War 2 ceased.

After the historic Article 9 renouncing war was enacted in 1947, Japanese troops stayed out of the Korean War, Vietnam War and other international conflicts. Now things are changing as the Japanese Diet has passed Abe's amendment to the constitution. The next step is a nationwide referendum in 2018. Although Emperor Akihito and the crown prince are opposed to the referendum and constitution lawyers opine that Article 9 cannot be amended, Abe is forging ahead to reclaim militarism as a sovereign right of the nation. The right-wing conservatives led by Abe are unperturbed by objections from all quarters. They are unafraid of risking world-wide mistrust of hidden intentions behind withdrawing Article 9.

Spectre of WW2 Revised

The hardline policy was signified by Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to the war dead including those convicted of war crimes and atrocities. His symbolic act roused nationalistic feelings and won votes for the LDP during the recent elections. The ensuing outburst of angry Chinese and South Korean protests raising the spectre of WW2 was ignored. If the truth be told, the Japanese leaders have long grown tired of apologising for their country's past militant imperialism. In a late May 2017 poll by Nikkei Shimbun, 51 percent of those surveyed backed Abe's proposal to undo the post-war pacifist constraints. After three generations, national pride and sentiments seeking a formal change have surfaced and taken centre stage.

JSDF Role Upgrade

Encouraged by the last electoral victory, the Abe government no longer restricts defence spending to one per cent of its GDP. The Japanese Cabinet approved a USD43.6 billion defence budget for 2017, an increase of 1.4 per cent over military spending in the previous year. It is allocated for battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines, thaad missiles, aircraft and armaments in the bid to revitalise defence goals while ostensibly deterring security threats from North Korea and China.

Previous Japanese governments allowed a military presence for national security purposes by reinterpreting the constitution. Under Abe in 2015, Japan’s Diet enacted laws to allow collective self-defence meaning assistance for allies under attack. Despite Article 9, the JSDF now has over310,000 active-duty troops.

Fear of the JSDF expanding its role abroad has offended ASEAN sensitivities in many countries where Japan is a major trading partner. Historic memories of Japanese imperialism run deep in the psyche of those haunted by the ravages of war and past aggression of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere era that engulfed them unwittingly. Quickly alerted, the international community led by China and South Korea have reminded Japan to respect the spirit of the original peaceful constitution.

2020 Dateline

On May 3 observed as Constitution Memorial Day this year, Abe’s public message declared 2020 as the target date for changing Article 9. With a timeframe of two years to wean off pacifism, he is making constitutional reform a top priority. If he has his way, with the support of young voters, he intends to stamp his place in national history as the man who steered Japan back to military strength and prowess. His main distraction is Abenomics, his earlier promise to revive the economy, raise wages and increase individual stock investment.

Revising the constitution looks likely. But a huge tax increase has to be borne by city voters who have far less representation than rural voters who control the country. This is the "half-democracy" that is Japan. City voters have representation in the Diet, but only half of what they deserve. The courts will not act on it. When MacArthur ruled Japan he set Diet representation in favour of rural voters due to his fear of communist control and takeover he saw all around him in China and elsewhere. Representation was never rebalanced giving the LDP lasting control. All of this paves the way for an out of control remilitarization.