“Joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is a far-sighted policy,” declared Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his Cabinet and journalists on Friday, “Japan should play a leading role toward a year-end deal.” The prime minister may be exactly right, but the fact is that very few independent observers have any firm basis for making a judgment. Not only are the TPP talks highly complex, they are also secret and moving very quickly.
During his recent visit to Canada and the United States, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a number of interesting visits and public statements, once again demonstrating that he tends to give rather different messages to international audiences as compared to what he says at home.
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.
The people who wrote this constitution lived in a world more dangerous than ours. They were surrounded by territory controlled by hostile powers, on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet they understood that even in perilous times the strength of self-government was public debate and public consensus. To put aside these basic values out of fear, to imitate the foe in order to defeat him, is to shred the distinction that makes us different.
It is not exactly an unknown technique in politics, but the Abe administration is using it in several high-profile cases, and some people, at least, have noticed. The technique is to establish supposedly “independent” panels or organizations, but appointing people to serve on those panels or in those organizations whose opinions and conclusions are already known in advance.
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.
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.