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.
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 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.
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.