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11:27 18 October 2015

OPINION: New security laws in Japan

By Hiroki Sugita
TOKYO, Oct. 18, Kyodo

Is Japan abandoning its brand of pacifism to wield military power in the Asia-Pacific and beyond? This question has been raised in Japan and foreign countries since the Diet passed a set of new security laws that allows Japanese forces to take part in military conflicts globally.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution says "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

The apparent contradictions between Article 9 and the new security laws naturally bring about concerns that Japan is overcoming this constitutional restriction to become a major military power.

Although Japan may be considering amending Article 9, the author is not of the opinion that Japan will go back to the militaristic state that it was before 1945.

However, the transformation of Japan into a so-called normal state would be good for the world only if the country implements foreign policies that are more constructive and improve relations with neighbors. Otherwise, Japan's contribution would be to escalate tensions and trigger disastrous military competition.

What does Japan need to do now? There are three pressing tasks to fulfill.

First, Japan needs to strengthen diplomacy bilaterally and multilaterally to diffuse tensions in the region. China is now trapped in a formidable economic slowdown.

When the author met Liu Yunshan, the fifth top-ranked member of the Communist Party of China in late September, Liu spoke in terms of appealing for international cooperation to revive the Chinese economy. Faced with a daunting challenge, China looks at Japan not as an enemy but as a potential partner to learn ways to stimulate its economy.

Most Japanese policymakers see China as a weakened rival and hope to let China remain a shrunken economy for the time being. This sentiment is understandable, but Japan should seize this opportunity and, by assisting China's economy, forge a better environment to overcome territorial and other thorny issues.

There are bilateral and multilateral settings in which to take advantage of China's economic slowdown to improve ties with China.

Japan should use various opportunities in the region to talk about the rise of China and ways to manage the turmoil of China's sudden economic slump. Multilateral dialogue should aspire to create regional security frameworks from which all participants can benefit.

Foreign observers see the new Japanese security laws as being a response to the military expansion of China and as portraying China as a potential foe. We have to dilute this perception by making greater efforts to reinforce dialogue with China.

Second, Japan needs to draw a clear line between cases in which its Self-Defense Forces can join U.S. military operations and those in which its forces can't. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set three conditions under which Japanese forces can join U.S. operations: Japan's survival is under threat, there are no other appropriate means, and Japan's use of force is limited to the minimum extent necessary.

However, given the most recent U.S. strategic review documents emphasizing military contributions from allies, it is logical that the United States will now frequently ask Japan to assist U.S. military operations and to eventually take over the more difficult aspects on behalf of the United States.

Can Japan decline such U.S. requests by citing the three conditions? Japan knows China has weakened its claim of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea since President Barack Obama stated that the U.S. is obliged to defend the islands as part of its role as a security partner. With a desire to show gratitude for this symbolic gesture by Obama, it is hard to imagine Japanese prime ministers saying no to a U.S. request.

To avoid the scenario in which Japan becomes merely a subcontractor to the U.S. military, it needs to clarify the meaning of the first condition, namely, Japan's survival being under threat.

Does it mean conflicts in the Korean Peninsula, a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, or high tension in the South China Sea? Abe says Japan would dispatch SDF ships to the Persian Gulf where 80 percent of Japan's imported oil comes from.

Oil is vitally important, but would the international community approve of Japan participating in conflicts in the Middle East? We need to show more clearly that northeast Asia, where Japan has to maintain stable relations with countries in the region for its own security, could be the geographical focus of Japanese SDF activities. Japan also should focus more on non-military contributions to peace in the region and the world.

Third, Japan needs to apply greater effort to overcome the negative legacy of World War II and come to terms with Asian countries over historical issues.

Apologies, compensation, and reconciliation over the past is an essential base for Japan to erase fears of a revival of Japan's militarization.

Before moving on to becoming a country that can fill a security role on the world stage, Japan has to solve the historical issues of "comfort women" and forced labor during the war period.

Germany plays a significant role in tackling international issues, including the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, the military conflict in the Ukraine, and the Greek financial malaise.

Claudia Roth, vice-president of the German Bundestag, told the author last July in Berlin, "German reconciliation with former victims of World War II has made the country strong and has brought us a global role."

Japan now aspires to strong self-defense and a global leadership role, but it cannot achieve these objectives unless it resolves the outstanding issues.

(Hiroki Sugita is the managing senior writer of Kyodo News.)

==Kyodo

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