The Mainichi Shinbun has opened the year with a blockbuster exclusive news story that is likely to be underplayed, or even ignored, by most of the rest of the Japanese media. One of the biggest headlines in November 2013 was the public announcement by Beijing that it was establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large swathe of the East China Sea.
For almost a year now after his thumping victory in December 2012 we have found ourselves surprised again and again by Shinzo Abe. We have asserted repeatedly that the Abe that we were witnessing was not the “real” Abe, and that the agenda he was pursuing was based on a tactical calculation about what was necessary to maintain public support, but not a reflection of his basic character.
Recent news from Southeast Asia has been dominated by maritime conflicts, and then trade negotiations in second place. However, nature has once again reminded us all that it is not just conflicts among nations that threaten the life and property of citizens. The reminder has come in the shape of a terrible typhoon, known as Haiyan or Yolanda.
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
Canada is one of those countries whose relations with Japan seldom prompt front page news. However, in addition to sharing some key interests, certain developments may help the relationship grow tighter over the coming years. These include energy, a field where Ottawa is a major player and Tokyo is in the midst of a major overhaul. The two countries are also taking steps in security and defense cooperation.
The appearance on September 9 of an unmanned airplane near the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims under the name Diaoyu, was just one of many incidents reported by the media over the last few weeks. However, it attracted the attention of observers who wondered whether this was a harbinger of things to come. On the one hand, it was just a matter of time until this kind of weapon would be deployed by the various powers in the Asia-Pacific region, where rumors about its presence already abounded.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest trip abroad has taken him to Djibouti, the strategically located small country in the Horn of Africa, home to Japan’s only overseas military base. Abe visited the military facilities and met President Ismail Omar Guelleh. The Japanese prime minister confirmed plans to provide patrol boats to Djibouti to help build its coast guards’ capacity. The visit thus fits with the Japanese policy of cooperating, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the fight against piracy.
The run up to the House of Councillors election in Japan, when opinion polls were already pointing to a victory by the ruling party, saw widespread speculation over a more robust foreign and defense policy by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This included the possibility of amending Article 9 of the Constitution. News of the election results only served to prompt renewed speculation. However, Abe’s first overseas trip after the polls — to Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines — seemed to confirm that Tokyo would proceed with a gradual and pragmatic “normalization,” rather than embark on radical change.
Tokyo’s defense policy continues to shift and pushes the boundaries of what was acceptable in the past. Self-Defense Forces capabilities are expanding, and this is an essential component of the growing coordination between the region’s maritime democracies.
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.