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A farewell to pacifism in Japan

Tokyo has altered its pacifist stance since the Russian war in Ukraine began to become more belligerent
Demonstrators hold banners against government plans to soften Japan's constitutional commitment to pacifism and give its military a more active role, in a Tokyo park on April 8, 2014

Demonstrators hold banners against government plans to soften Japan's constitutional commitment to pacifism and give its military a more active role, in a Tokyo park on April 8, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 12, 2022 03:50 AM GMT
Updated: December 12, 2022 04:22 AM GMT

Detaching itself from the horrendous memories of a nuclear explosion 77 years ago and mulling to bury its pacifist constitution behind it, Japan is getting ready to be armed from top to bottom to take head on three neighboring nuclear-power nations at the same time.

Since the Ukraine war started in February this year by nuclear-powered Russia, Japan has been courting big-time defense spenders while adopting an unprecedented level of economic sanctions against its maritime neighbor, which are also aimed at its communist neighbor China and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s recalcitrant leader.

With the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) enjoying considerable clout in society and a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet, it may institute changes to Japan’s pacifist constitution and turn the country's Self-Defense Forces into a full-fledged military. It’s just a matter of time.

The makeover will suit Japan’s new level of aggression, the only country to ever be attacked with atomic weapons, and its increased role in Asia’s security.

"The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also imposed an unprecedented level of economic sanctions against Russia"

Along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and the European Union (EU), Japan has been trying to limit Russia’s ability to finance its Ukraine invasion from the proceeds of oil and gas trade. Japan was at the forefront of supporting the G7 price cap on Russian seaborne oil which came into force on Dec. 5.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has frozen Moscow’s access to tens of billions of dollars worth of assets held in the central bank, the Bank of Japan. The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also imposed an unprecedented level of economic sanctions against Russia, like removing Russian banks from the global interbank messaging system SWIFT.

Japan also raised the contentious issue of the Southern Kuril Islands, known as the 'northern territories’ in Japan, with Russia.

Suddenly, Japan found enough bargaining power in the four islands in the Sea of Japan where indigenous people are living in isolation, undocumented and stateless.

The row over the four islands is traced to the Second World War when the erstwhile USSR conquered the Kuril Islands. Since then, Russia considers them as its territory.

Fearing that the US could help Japan to retake the Kuril Islands to make sure Tokyo’s support in a potential future standoff with China, and going by the high degree of unity and co-operation between Europe, the US and Japan shown in their response to the Ukraine war, Russia, in turn, recently deployed the Bastion coastal missile system on Paramushir island, a part of the Kuril Islands, triggering a face-off.

All these tough measures were taken by the Japanese government, also keeping in mind a nuclear China after the flare-up in the Taiwan Straits recently and North Korea openly claiming its success in handling nuclear weapons, even up to US shores.

Japan is expected to join the US and Australia to participate in joint military exercises in Australia as part of its broader efforts to curb China’s influence in the region in the near future. The aim is to initiate and integrate an inexperienced Japan into combined military activities in the Indo-Pacific, a term first used by the late prime minister, Shinzo Abe, in 2007.

"China’s military spending reached US$230 billion this year compared with $60 billion in 2008"

In October, Japan and Australia inked a security pact that allowed Japanese Self-Defense Forces to train in Australia to respond to an assertive China.

Keeping China in mind, Japan has increased military ties with Catholic-majority Philippines. Two Japanese fighter jets landed at the Clark Air Base in the Philippines for the first time since the Second World War on Dec 6. The Philippines is embroiled in a long-standing territorial dispute in the South China Sea with China.

Kyodo news agency reported that the Philippine Air Force commanding general, Lt. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas, welcomed the first visit by Japan's fighter jets to the Philippines.

Japan is part of the anti-China Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as the Quad, which also includes two nuclear powers, India and the US, besides Australia, which has been receiving nuclear assistance by the US and UK under the Aukus defense pact.

China’s military spending reached US$230 billion this year compared with $60 billion in 2008, according to the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. The US, Japan’s trusted ally, shelled out nearly $770 billion in arms in 2021.

Japan’s military spending will reach nearly $287 billion over the next five years, while it will be $39.66 billion for the fiscal year that ends in March 2023.

Japan, which spends no more than 1 percent of its GDP on defense, does not want anymore to lag behind its rivals in defense spending, as Kishida asked the cabinet to raise defense spending to 2 percent of the GDP in five years during a recent meeting with finance minister Shunichi Suzuki and defense minister Yasukazu Hamada.

The 2 percent increase will bring Japan in line with the target of NATO members, of which Japan is not a signatory. But Japan has developed closer ties with NATO, attending a NATO summit as an observer in June this year. Thus, Kishida became the first Japanese prime minister to take part in a NATO summit.

By becoming part of all the major defense pacts initiated by the West and NATO and hiking its defense spending, is Japan aiming for a prime slot to act as a superpower in Asia, anointed by the US and NATO?

"Japan is no longer a nation following its pacifist constitution. It is arming up with a big picture of ground zero in mind"

While delivering the Guildhall speech in London in May 2022, Kishida observed, “Japan will work together with other nations and take actions with resolute determination so that we would not be sending out the wrong message to the international community.”

The Church in Japan has always stood for peace due to the devastating effects of nuclear weapons and the Vatican often cites Japan as an example while championing a nuclear-free world. St Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which came under US nuclear attack in 1945.

When the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which bans to test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, became international law on Jan 22, 2021, the Catholic Church in Japan asked the government to rethink its obsession with nuclear arms and asked it to act as a bridge between nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear-armed states.

At this year’s Ten Days of Prayer for Peace event, held from Aug. 6-15, which was started in 1982 following St Pope John Paul II’s appeal during his apostolic journey to Japan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ), Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo, drew attention to the new threats to peace and security, amid Russia's war against Ukraine. 

As observed by Archbishop Kikuchi, Japan has altered its pacifist mindset following the start of the Russian-Ukraine war, this time to be more belligerent. Japan is no longer a nation following its pacifist constitution. It is arming up with a big picture of ground zero in mind.

"A world free from nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible," Pope Francis told the first Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in June this year.

But there is less fun in Pacem in Terris (peace on earth), the 1963 encyclical of Pope John XXIII that sought nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War and addressed not only Catholics but also all men and women of goodwill, if Japan remains on the other side of the coin.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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