Adoption of a set of 11 laws addressing the issue of national security by the House of Representatives (lower house) of the National Diet (Japanese Parliament) on July 16, 2015 is indisputably one of the most important events in today’s global politics. It is expected to have a striking effect on the shaping of the political map not only of the Asia-Pacific region (APR), but also of the entire world.
It was anticipated that Washington and Beijing would have opposing reactions to the results of the voting on the approval of the bills submitted by the government to the House of Representatives.
Since the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the New Komeito Party hold a majority in the upper house (House of Councillors) as well as in lower house, the subsequent passage of the bills by the upper house is almost certain.
The key legislatively approved novelty pertaining to the national security would allow the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to engage in armed conflicts beyond the borders of the country based on the UN’s right to collective self-defense and under the pretext that the lives of Japanese citizens staying abroad are under the threat.
Those criticizing the new laws draw attention to the vagueness of their wording and point out that the government could freely interpret some events occurring in the vast “gray area” that stretches between the state of peace and the state of war. A law, according to which a citizen can be subjected to criminal liabilities for the disclosure of confidential information, access to which he has gained by virtue of his job duties or in any other way, will help the government to conceal its true intentions from the public. Such a law was signed in effect in December 2013.
Different questions pertaining to the vagueness of law wording arise in the course of debates. For example, how should the statement “threat to lives of Japanese citizens”, which is supposed to serve as the grounds for the dispatch of JSDF units to one or another region of the world, be construed,? How valid are assertions of the representative of the government that Japan will not be under the threat of automatic involvement (now worldwide) in armed conflicts in which its ally, the US, participates?
Quite possibly, the event will be assessed emotionally in the “past the point of no return” style. However, the passing of the new security laws has just brought closure to the latest stage of the long process of “normalization” of Japan, which began at the end of the Cold War. The achieved results are interim because the real “point of no return” and the symbol of the completion of this stage would be an outright abolition of Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution, the article, which no other constitution has. The article embraces two underlying premises: Japan renounces war as a means of settling state problems. Therefore, it should not maintain armed forces, being the main instrument of war. Both these provisions continue to play leading roles of an obstacle obstructing the way to the completion of the process of “normalization” of Japan.
1960, the year when the government headed by Prime Minister Nobusuke Keesee (grandfather of the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe) entered into the American-Japanese security agreement, can be regarded as the starting point of the process.
From that time on, Japanese lawyers have been warning of the explicit mismatch that exists between the real state of affairs where an implementation of the security policy is taking place and the restrictions imposed by the Constitution.
Today this mismatch is manifested as clearly as never before, since the so-called “Japanese Self-Defense Forces” have already become (de facto) one of the most powerful armed forces in the world.
It seems that it didn’t annoy the Japanese society or its neighbors (first of all China) in the past as much as it does today. Because in the past it could be assured (with certain reservations) based on the provisions of the legislation that was in effect prior to July 16 that the presence of the JSDF would (mainly) be restricted to the territory of the Japan. However, the government resolution, which was passed on July 1, 2014, on the potential use of the UN’s right to collective defense to fend aggression of another country that does not belong to the coalition, has profoundly exacerbated the aforementioned mismatch.
Public opinion polls conducted by the major Japanese newspaper the Mainichi Shimbun ten days before the voting showed that the number of opponents of the government-proposed laws had increased by 5% in only two months and had come to 61%. This fact allows any newspaper, including the Mainichi Shimbun, to proclaim a “widening of the gap between the society and the Parliament“.
The passing of new security laws revitalized the efforts of the government of Okinawa, which had been challenging the decision of the government to extend the presence of Futemma, an American Air Force base, on the island.
The fact that the number of people opposing acceleration of country’s military activities is rising appears to be particularly remarkable, especially in the context of strengthening anti-Chinese sentiments in Japan and hostile attitude toward Japan in China.
Ordinary citizens can sense that something illegal and dangerous is happening and their feelings coincide with the expert opinion expressed by lawyers of leading Japanese universities engaged by the opposition in the course of parliamentary debates. They noted that bills proposed by the government are in conflict with the principle law of the country.
The politically active part of the Japanese population fears that the new laws would put a limit to the public supervision of the government’s activities in the domain of defense and would instigate negative associations with the Japan of the period of the Second World War in some Asian countries (while in China such associations would intensify).
As was noted above, the policy of gradual evasion of the constitutional restrictions established in the domains of defense and security (through the use of different excuses) was embarked upon in the late 1950s, early 60s.
In the last 10-15 years, various pseudo-phenomena, such as “terrorism,” “piracy,” “non-conventional wars”, which hardly have any actual subjectness, were used as such excuses. These and other simulacra were employed to disguise the preparations of the key global players for quite “conventional” (i.e. international) conflicts.
Official scenarios of American-Japanese-Indian naval military exercises (with participation of dozens of combat ships, including battle aircraft carriers) conducted under the cloak of “anti-pirate and anti-terrorist drills” do not look so innocent anymore. Those pirates and terrorists would probably think highly of themselves were they to know that they are the cause of fuss among some of the “masters” of the modern world.
Such exercises trigger rather well-grounded associations with the circumstances preceding global tragic events of the recent past. All that is no laughing matter. The feeling that yet another global tragedy is being instigated underlies the escalating protests of the Japanese society against the expansion of the geography and scale of operations the JSDF can be involved in.
Despite apprehensions of possible consequences of China evolving into the second world power, Japanese cannot but appreciate the fact that their great neighbor is at the same time their main trading partner. And that is extremely important in the context of newly arising challenges in Japanese economy.
Moreover, lately Beijing started making alluring promises pertaining to the possibility of accelerated expansion of the bilateral economic partnership, provided Tokyo abandons its remilitarization plans and makes a “correct” assessment of its own recent history. Then what good, the average Japanese citizen asks himself, would it do to aggravate such a needed (although intimidating) partner in the current situation?
Because, the majority of Japanese elite answer this question to themselves, the remaining potential for maneuvering with the engagement of political simulacra should be employed at this time since further development of the process of Japan’s “normalization” is constrained by the provisions of Article 9 of the Constitution.
Apparently, Mr. Abe sees the ultimate goal of his political career in the elimination of Article 9 from the Constitution. An assumption that the current Japanese Prime Minister perceives himself as a successor and a goal scorer in the case initiated by his grandfather 55 years ago is regarded in Japan as viable.
However, the situation that is currently developing in the country after the approval of the new raft of laws might indicate that having achieved a tactical victory in 2015, Mr. Abe and LDP thereby “have engineered” a prospect of a strategic defeat for themselves at the next year’s regular midterm election to the upper house of the Parliament. For, if LPD fails (quite likely) to acquire two-thirds majority in the upper house, the launching of an extremely complex procedure leading to the alteration of the Constitution would be out of the question.
Finally, a visit to Beijing from Shotaro Yachi, the closest advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister, who serves in the position of the First Head of the National Security Council of Japan, is noteworthy. A high-ranking Japanese official visited China at the time when the Diet of Japan was voting on the new security laws.
According to information leaked to press, a possibility of a visit from Mr. Abe to Beijing during the celebrations in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the End of the Pacific War was discussed with the member of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Yang Jiechi in the course of negotiations. By the way, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin will also be in Beijing at that time (on the same occasion). There is a possibility that an informal summit of leaders of the three major countries of the Northeast Asia could be organized amidst the festivities.
Such a summit would be extremely important in terms of stabilization of the situation in the region, which has recently been affected by various negative events, among which there is the adoption of new security legislation by Japan.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.