Thu, Dec 05, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Is Japan’s ‘new nationalism’ a return to imperialism?

Tokyo’s bid to play a more leading role on the international stage is alarming Beijing and Seoul, which see in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s split with pacifism proof that the country is reviving its military mindset

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian, YOKOSUKA, Japan

What Abe was doing was “necessary and justified” in the face of China’s diplomatic hostility and rapid military buildup, said Yuji Miyamoto, a former Japanese ambassador to China.

“Only three countries don’t understand this policy: China, South Korea and North Korea,” said Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother and Japanese senior vice foreign minister.

In contrast, the members of ASEAN are mostly on board.

Abe’s advancing security agenda suggests his second year in office will be even more rumbustious than the first.

It includes creating a national security council modeled on the US and British versions (British Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of Foreign Affairs William Hague have offered their advice), a new national security strategy, revamped defense guidelines and a harsh state secrets law.

Criticized by the UN and the main opposition parties, the proposed law threatens long jail sentences for whistle-blowers and journalists who break its vague, catchall provisions. Abe has increased the defense budget for the first time in years, is overseeing an expansion of naval and coastguard capabilities (the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, or navy, is already the second-biggest in Asia by tonnage) and has gathered expert support for a reinterpretation of article 9 of Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow “collective self-defense” — meaning that if the US or another ally is attacked, Japanese armed forces will join the fight.

On the diplomatic front, Abe is busily wooing his Asian neighbors. Having visited all 10 members of ASEAN in his first year, he is to host a gala summit for the bloc in Tokyo on Dec. 13 that looks very much like an anti-China jamboree.

He comprehensively outflanked Beijing during this month’s typhoon emergency in the Philippines, sending troops, ships and generous amounts of aid in the biggest single overseas deployment of Japanese forces since 1945, while China was widely criticized for donating less financial aid than Swedish furniture chain Ikea.

Abe is also providing 10 coastguard vessels to the Philippines to help ward off Chinese incursions. Improved security and military-to-military cooperation with Australia and India form part of his plans.

Meanwhile, Tokyo officials insist that the US relationship remains the bedrock of Japanese security. Taking full advantage of US President Barack Obama’s so-called “pivot to Asia,” Abe’s government agreed to a revised pact in October with US Secretary of State John Kerry and the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, providing for a “more robust alliance and greater shared responsibilities.”

With a wary eye on China, the pact envisages enhanced cooperation in ballistic missile defense; arms development and sales; intelligence sharing; space and cyberwarfare; joint military training and exercises; plus the introduction of advanced radar and drones. Japan is also expected to buy US advanced weapons systems, such as the F-35 fighter bomber and two more Aegis-equipped missile defense destroyers.

Washington is positively purring with pleasure over Abe’s tougher stance.

“The US welcomed Japan’s determination to contribute proactively to regional and global peace and security,” a joint statement issued by the two countries said.

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