Who is stoking Japan's military ambition?

China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2022-01-08 16:10:19

By Liu Qingbin

January 6 and 7 might be two days of great importance for Japan that has been yearning to play a more important role in the international political and military stage.

Leaders of Japan and Australia held a video-link summit on January 6, followed by this year’s “two plus two” meeting between Japanese and American foreign ministers and defense ministers the next day. Japanese media reported that the two events both indicated that Japan will play a bigger role in the so-called “Indo-Pacific military security”.

For starters, Tokyo and Canberra will sign the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) – the first in-depth defense agreement signed by Japan since the Agreement regarding the Status of United States Armed Forces in Japan signed with the US in 1960 – to reinforce their defense and security cooperation. The new agreement will bring Japan and Australia to a quasi-military alliance and largely intensify their military ties in the US-Japan-India-Australia “Quad” mechanism, a result the US has been pushing strongly under the table in the past two years.

For another thing, a key topic at the Japan-US “two plus two” meeting was a draft of joint combat program in the event of an emergency involving Taiwan. According to the draft, Japan will allow American troops to build a temporary attack base on its southwestern islands if necessary, which are geographically close to the Taiwan island. If military friction or conflict broke out across the Taiwan Strait, the US troops would be able to step in and interfere immediately leveraging Japan’s geographical proximity to the island, and that would be equivalent to embroiling Japan into the conflict too.

Having grown into a major economy, Japan has been hoping to also become a major political power in the world, and its political elites believe the post-WWII international system and Japan’s Pacifist Constitution have tied the country’s hands in playing its due political and military role. Therefore, Tokyo has been seeking an opportunity to shed the shackles on it, and now its political elites are seeing such an opportunity in America’s need for Japan when pursuing strategic containment of China.

Diplomacy is the continuation of internal politics. Japan’s eager attempt to forge deeper and tighter military connections with Australia and America corresponds with the radical remarks recently made by its former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other figures, such as “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency”. Abe has increasingly shown his rightist true color after stepping down from office. Judging from what the Liberal Democratic Party is doing now, Abe and his followers seem to count on using the Taiwan question as an excuse to not only revise the Pacifist Constitution, but also quickly draw up a conscription law afterwards.

Despite Japan’s shrewd calculating, most of its people don’t support its plan and surrounding countries are also vigilant and firmly opposed to it playing a bigger military role overseas. Many Japanese media have emphasized that the Japanese people are opposed to their country engaging in foreign military conflicts, and the young people won’t accept the conscription law.

The more-than-70-year peace and development enjoyed by Japan after WWII is preconditioned by its waiver of the right to war, hence invalidating the notion of conscription. The pretext of “proximity to Taiwan” may draw public attention for a moment, but Japanese residents will by no means deny the experience and lessons they have gained in the past 70-plus years. Neither will they accept conscription and pay their hard-won money for the country’s mounting defense budget.

(The author is a professor at the Yokohama National University, Japan)

Editor's note: This article is originally published on huanqiu.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.

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