NEWS FROM JAPAN - THE DAY AFTER
Since the adoption of the controversial new national security legislation that significantly reinterpreted Japan’s constitution and drew unprecedented public opposition, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and his administration have pledged to put the issue of national security on the backburner of the political agenda and prioritize economic issues instead – at least until the House of Councillors election that will take place next summer.
2016 Constitutional Revision Plans
However, Abe Shinzo has already made public his intention to resume Diet deliberations towards amending the Constitution in 2016.
Given the massive public opposition to changing war-renouncing Article 9 and the reluctance by a majority in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to rush the debate, the declared priority for now is the creation of new provisions, notably one regarding major disasters and other national emergencies – a subject that is unlikely to draw much resistance. The current constitution does not have any provision dealing with emergencies, such as the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, or the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Yet, nobody is duped: amending the constitution on any less-controversial issues would open a Pandora's Box and eventually lead to Abe’s long-cherished goal of rewriting Article 9. As one of Abe’s close aides put it: “First of all, [Abe will] work to promote constitutional amendment involving a state-of-emergency article after [next year’s] upper house election. That will be followed by the pursuit of his fundamental target.” “We want to revise Article 9 first, but it is an issue that would deeply divide the nation. … We have no choice but to delay a revision to Article 9 to the second amendment or later,” said another LDP senior member.
In order to revise the Constitution, proposals to change each provision must be introduced separately and supported by a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet, as well as by majority of voters in a national referendum. Although the ruling coalition controls more than two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House, it does not currently in the Upper House. Thus, the upcoming Upper House elections, to take place in July 2016, have major political stake.
Vote Them Out!
So far, opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the Japan Innovation Party (JIP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), have not been able to capitalize on the broad public objection to Abe’s national security policy and translate it into votes.
In this context, SEALDs, one of the most prominent groups that organized mass protests nationwide last year, is now calling to support candidates proposing to scrap the new laws, as well as pressing opposition parties to form a united front against the LDP-led ruling coalition. In December, the group set up a thinktank called ReDEMOS that will inform people, advise political parties and propose policies related to Abe administration’s national security policy and other sensitive questions on the political agenda.
Another network, called Civil Alliance for Peace and Constitutionalism, was formed to pursue the same goal: foster collaboration among opposition parties and encourage them to nominate joint candidates at the upcoming elections to maximize the chances to vote the LDP-led government out. “The people have not forgotten their outrage over the steamrolling of the security laws and other government misconduct,” said one Alliance member. "And we will keep working to push voters to make a change,” said another. The Alliance will work with candidates who oppose the security legislation and provide them support in their election campaigns.
Diverse groups that oppose the security bills continue to regularly hold protests and rallies around the Diet and support legal avenues to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation. Nearly 300 legal experts have announced the filing of at least eight lawsuits across the country next spring when the security bills come into effect. They will argue that any collective self-defense operations violate their constitutional right to live in peace. On November 3, a number of groups also launched a drive to collect 20 million signatures by May 3, 2016 to protest against the security legislation and demand that it be abolished.
Boosting Defense Capability
In parallel to seeking constitutional amendment, the government is steadily building up its military capability.
On December 24, the cabinet approved a defense budget of 5.05 trillion yen ($41.4 billion) for 2016 - the biggest in 14 years. It represents a hike of 1.5% (or about 74 billion yen) compared to the previous fiscal year and the fourth annual increase in a row, after a decade of cuts in military spending.
The new budget is designed to beef up Japan’s maritime security amidst territorial disputes in the East China Sea, as well as to strengthen the country’s military cooperation with the United States.
Developing A Market
The government is also taking steps to open Japan’s industry to the international market.
In April 2014, the Abe administration relaxed Japan’s prohibition on arms exports and re-named it as the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology. Under the new rules, arms exports are allowed, as long as they “contribute to strengthening security and defense cooperation with Japan’s ally, the United States as well as other countries” and contribute to “international peace and international cooperation”. In order to implement the new policy – and promote arms export – a new “Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency” (ATLA) was created in October 2015, under the Ministry of Defense, with a budget of 2 trillion yen ($16.3 billion) or about a third of the Defense Ministry’s budget.
The hosting of Japan’s first-ever military arms fair in May 2015 consecrated Japanese ambition to establish its new status as a weapons exporter. Some of Japan’s biggest industrial conglomerates, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki and Komatsu, are now entering the defense industry and developing military hardware for export. Their military-related production had so far been limited mainly to providing equipment to Japanese Self-Defense Forces, as well as selling military components to the United States.
Developing Japan’s defense exports is not only a matter of commercial policy, but also an important dimension of Abe’s diplomatic strategy. Indeed, target customers are mainly countries in the region that share wariness about China’s growing assertiveness, such as Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
“By providing arms to these countries we can make money, we can balance China, and strengthen and institutionalize our partnerships and empower these countries. It’s a win-win-win situation,” Michishita Narushige, Director of the Security and International Studies Program at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies analyses.
Japan’s “Pivot” to Southeast Asia
Indeed, since the deterioration of its relation with China in 2012, Japan has increasingly been turning its attention to Southeast Asia, where Tokyo sees an opportunity to keep its rival in check and establish its expanded role in regional security under Abe’s pet doctrine of proactive pacifism.
Over recent years, Japan has been gradually increasing its investment in South and Southeast Asia and developing special strategic relationships with a number of countries in the region, in particular in the area of maritime security capacity-building assistance.
To that end, in February, the Abe administration revised the country’s Official Development Assistance Charter, renamed Development Cooperation Charter, in order to allow funding foreign militaries – albeit for non-combat activities.
The new ODA charter reflects the administration’s approach that seeks to use development aid as a component of Japan’s national security policy. "Addressing development issues contributes to the enhancement of the global security environment, and it is necessary for Japan to strengthen its efforts as part of its 'proactive contribution to peace' based on the principle of international cooperation. Japan will utilize its ODA in a strategic and effective manner," the charter reads.
Providing aid to armed forces of countries in the region that have their own share of territorial claims with China is thus part of Abe’s strategy to counter China’s influence in Asia. As a direct result of the policy shift, the administration has set aside an ODA budget of 552 billion yen ($4.6 billion), as part of the 2016 annual budget. This represents the first increase in 17 years.
Among the beneficiaries of Japan’s ODA are the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which have generally welcomed Japan’s efforts to foster stronger defense and security ties in the region. In 2013, Japan committed 2 trillion yen of official development assistance to ASEAN over five years, with an explicit goal of “capacity building of maritime safety response (e.g. Provision of patrol vessels, equipment, and capacity building )” among other things. In a joint statement issued at the commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of ASEAN-Japan relations, Japan and ASEAN members emphasized their “resolve to enhance maritime security and safety cooperation” and “ASEAN Leaders looked forward to Japan’s efforts in contributing constructively to peace, stability, and development in the region.”
Special Strategic Relationships
At the bilateral level as well, Japan has been accelerating the development of “special strategic relationships” with a number of Asia-Pacific nations. In the course of the last two months, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has conducted high-level meetings and consultations with the Philippines, India, Australia and Indonesia to solidify their security cooperation.
Indeed in November 2015, Abe met with Philippine President Benigno Aquino, on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit held in Manila, and they agreed in principle to pursue a strategic partnership between the two countries and start negotiating the transfer of defense equipment and technology.
In December, during his visit to India, Abe signed two important security agreements in the areas of defense equipment and technology and security of military information with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Other important discussions on the agenda included the proposal for India to buy Japanese military and a nuclear deal.
Just a few days later, Abe and his new Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull issued a joint statement highlighting their two countries’ “special strategic partnership” and cooperation in opposing any change of the “status quo” in the East or South China Sea. At the meeting, Japan’s bid for a Soryu submarine contract was also discussed.
In that same week, Japan also began talks with Indonesia on transfer of defense equipment and technology that would allow Tokyo to export military equipment to Jakarta, in particular in the area of maritime security.
Pursuing more robust relationships with these countries is part of a strategy Abe defined in 2007, “whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US … form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific.” It is also one of the critical components of the implementation of his doctrine of “pro-active contribution to peace based on international cooperation.”
Abe’s efforts to assert Japan’s proactive security posture, in a context of rising tensions in the East and South China Sea, threaten to take place at the expense of regional peace. It is not only exacerbating regional rivalries and accelerating an arms race, but also changing the perception people in the region and the international community have of Japan as a pacific country.
Picture credit: Reuters