The debate on the meaning of Article 9 of the Constitution is once again making headlines. Beyond the proposals for reinterpretation, and even formal amendment, we can observe yet again practical policy moves crossing its boundaries. In part, these moves reflect the always difficult distinction between defense and offense. Another line which may be shifting is that between self-defense and collective defense.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s late May to Myanmar (Burma) has highlighted the scale of Japan’s interests in the country. These not only include trade, investment, and economic cooperation, but also comprise national security themes. Myanmar is home to key natural resources, offers cheap labor and untapped markets, and is located at a strategic crossroads.
At a meeting held on May 22 in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Filipino counterpart Albert del Rosario confirmed that Tokyo would be providing ten vessels to the Philippine coast guard “with an eye on China,” according to the Asahi Shinbun. The Philippines have long been considered among the weakest military powers in Southeast Asia, while Japan chose in the 1960s not to export weapons, as part of its postwar focus on economic reconstruction.
Last year the Defense Ministry began floating a plan to the media suggesting that they wanted to build a GSDF radar base on the remote island of Yonaguni, a stone’s throw from Taiwan, as a measure to keep an eye on Chinese naval activities in the seas around Okinawa Prefecture. The plan is to base one hundred or more GSDF officers permanently on this tiny island, which is less than 30 square kilometers in size and has a total population of around 1,700 people.
The new regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping is to be congratulated for accomplishing the remarkable feat of making the rightwing lunatic fringe of Japanese politics look positively wise and prescient this week. Ever since large-scale anti-Chinese protests began to appear on the streets of Japan in the autumn of 2010, one of their staple claims was that Beijing had its longing eyes focused on the uninhabited Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands only as a first step toward encroaching on well-inhabited Okinawa, then Kyushu, then all of Japan.
The third consecutive Japanese prime minister has embraced the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and this time it is probably for real—at least as far as entering the negotiation process goes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his much-awaited visit with US President Barack Obama to crow a little bit about how he was “restoring” the US-Japan Alliance after the three dark years of the Democratic Party of Japan.
The return of Shinzo Abe to the Japanese premiership was expected to lead to renewed efforts to build ties with fellow democracies, albeit within a pragmatic framework designed not to give the appearance of an explicit containment policy vis-à-vis China. The early foreign trips by some key members of the administration, including Abe himself, to Southeast Asia, made it clear that this would indeed be on the agenda.
After about a year of hanging about in the background, the issue of Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations was suddenly thrust back into the front rank of political debate. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been in favor of Japan’s participation in TPP negotiations all along, as was his predecessor Naoto Kan. However, it appears that Noda decided to soft-pedal the matter late last year as he faced the daunting challenge of raising the national consumption tax, a divisive issue within the ruling party that he saw as the bigger priority.
The long string of incidents off the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands this summer and the wider maritime territorial disputes in East and Southeast Asia have been overshadowing a major development with great potential implications for Japan: The northern sea route, linking East Asia with Europe through waters traditionally closed by ice to commercial navigation, are increasingly accessible during the Arctic summer thanks to the global warming.
If all goes well, one of China’s largest and most advanced patrol boats, the Haixun 31, should arrive in Hawaii on September 4 for cooperative exercises with the United States Coast Guard to “strengthen mutual understanding.” This will be the first time a Chinese patrol ship with helicopter-carrying capacity will dock in the United States.