21.01.2014 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan’s military construction and the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region Part 2

mozaheb20130113171314707In general, we can state that the increase in the organizational and technological quality of the armed forces is becoming central to Japan’s military development. This is particularly notable against the background of the symbolic (supposed) increase in military spending, which in relative terms, still remains among the lowest in the world.

The fact that the Self Defense Forces will have units, capable of conducting landing operations based on the “sea to the land” scheme is noteworthy. This will not only contribute to the solution of the current problems with regards to the defense of Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands (which PRC is claiming), it also corresponds to one of the central provisions of the National Security Strategy, mentioned above.

The analysis of all three documents allows Chinese experts to make the most general conclusion that the vector of the Japanese defense policy changed its focus from the “irrelevant” North, to the West and South, i.e., in the direction of China. According to the same experts, in the course of this turn, the Self Defense Forces will acquire an “offensive potential”.

As for self-restraints, so far there is no indication of Japan’s possible abandoning of the principle of “three not’s” in the field of nuclear weapons,at least in the near future. However, the ban on Japanese exports of arms will be seriously “lightened” in the coming months. This is associated with the need to participate in international development programs involving the latest modern military technologies, as well as with the stimulation of Japanese companies to pay more attention to the defense business.

Now, any bypass of the ban on the export of Japanese arms is an “exception to the rule”. Since 1998, the cooperation of American and Japanese companies in the development of missile defense systems is carried out in this format.

The law on criminal liability for disclosure of confidential information relating to a number of areas of governmental activity, adopted in December 2013, also fits into the overall process of “normalization”of Japan. This also applies to the right to participate in activities of“collective self-defense”, which will be most probably dealt with by the Abe Cabinet in the spring of 2014.

The acts raising the status of the emperor from the current “Symbol of the Unity of the Nation” to the “Head of the State”, the introduction of respect for the national flag and anthem, as well as renaming of the Self Defense Forces into the Armed Forces will be extremely important for the Japanese process of “normalization”. All of these activities have been described in detail in the policy documents of the currently ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The leadership, headed by the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, adopted the documents in 2012, on the eve of extraordinary parliamentary elections.

Impact on the Situation in the Asia-Pacific Region

And yet, despite the importance of the documents, adopted on December 17, 2013, as well as of the other expected “related acts” in the field of defense and security, for the current Cabinet, they are rather an intermediate step towards the “normalization”of the country. This is evidenced by the statement, made ​​on December 23 by S. Abe that thepurpose of his political career has always been the revision of the Constitution adopted in 1947.

The intentions of the Japanese prime minister are proven by his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which took place on December 26 and caused a wide resonance in the world.According to Shinto concepts, the 2.5 million Japanese soldiers, who died in various wars, rest inthis temple. Among them are those senior officials of Japan, who were in power during World War II and were executed in December 1948 by the verdict of the Tokyo Tribunal.

The first (and now the penultimate) visit to the Yasukuni Shrine was made ​​in 2006 by the then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. As it was at that time, the current visit to this temple by the highest official of Japan caused the expected negative reactions from China and South Korea. Similar visits of members of the Japanese government, which are becoming routine, have always been viewed in Beijing and Seoul as evidence of “revisionism” of recent history and point out to “the revival of militarism” in the aggressor country during World War II.

The immediate reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Abe’s visit had approximately the same meaning.In this regard,the publicly expressed concerns of the representatives of Japanese industrial companies, which are essentially operating abroad, are especially notable. They recalled the very negativeimpact of the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations on their businesses in China, which occurred due to the deteriorating political relations.

“Disappointment” in connection with this visit, which can “raise tensions in Japan’s relations with its neighbors”, was also expressed in a statement on behalf of the new American ambassador to Tokyo, Caroline Kennedy (daughter of the famous U.S. president).However, in the same statement, Japan is designated as an American“ally and friend”.

Finally, we must touch upon the importance of the process of Japan’s “normalization”for the development of the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region. Today, it is mainly determined by the state of relations in the strategic triangle of US-China-Japan. From each of its“corners”, the current situation is naturally seen differently. The following picture reflects a fairly common view in China.

This illustration accompanies the article, written by a columnist of the Chinese online publication Global Times, which comments on the adoption of the three above-mentioned documents in Japan. However, the artistic image of what is happening in the APR needs some important clarifications.

First, so far it probably reflects the situation of the 1930s, rather than the current state of affairs in the region (fortunately). Second, the Japanese soldier still does not have that intimidating weapon, which is depicted in the picture, and the Chinese Panda is not defenseless. Third, from the viewpoint of Japanese political commentator, both characters would certainly exchange places. Fourth, the roguish global leader has not yet hidden itself behind the wall – but is rather locatedin front of the Japanese soldier, in relation to the panda. Now, the leader is reflecting on what steps to take next.

Finally, the given picture reflects the result of one of the possible scenarios in the region, which leaves some hope for the realization of more optimistic scenarios.

In conclusion, we should mention the objectivity of Japan’s gradual abandoning of its limitations, which are connected with cause and effect relation to its aggressive policy dating 80 years back. The comprehensive growth of China, including its military sphere, has the same objective nature.

So far, these processes are viewed in the two countries as directed against each other. Since the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region will be more and more determined by the state of Sino-Japanese relations, we can only hope for a calm, balanced, and detached from recent history (as much as possible), assessment of these processes on the part of the leaderships of both China and Japan.

Vladimir Terekhov, leading research fellow at the Asia and Middle East Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.