Tag Archives: Japan-China territorial disputes

Japan’s Parliament passes legislation allowing military to fight in foreign wars

Both the Chinese government and people long have feared and accused post-WWII Japan of “remilitarization” — a revival of and return to its imperialist military aggression.

Now that Beijing has declared its sovereignty (via an Air Defense Identification Zone) over the disputed Sengaku or Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea, as well as over the South China Sea, that Chinese accusation is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. On July 16, 2015, the Japanese Parliament approved of legislation that, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, empowers the military to fight in foreign conflicts.

China-Japan ADIZsJonathan Soble reports for the New York Times, July 16, 2015, that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party and its allies in the lower house of Parliament approved the package of 11 security-related bills after opposition lawmakers walked out in protest and as demonstrators chanted noisily outside, despite a gathering typhoon. The upper chamber, which Abe’s coalition also controls, is all but certain to endorse the legislation as well.

The legislation would allow the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to cooperate more closely with United States forces by providing logistical support and, in certain circumstances, armed backup in international conflicts. It complements guidelines in a bilateral agreement governing how Japanese and United States forces work together, which was signed by the two governments this year.

The vote was the culmination of months of contentious debate in a society that has long embraced pacifism to atone for wartime aggression. It was a significant victory for Abe, who has devoted his career to moving Japan beyond guilt over its militarist past and toward his vision of a “normal country” with a larger role in global affairs.

But Abe’s agenda goes against the wishes of much of the Japanese public, and his moves have generated unease across Asia, especially in countries Japan once occupied and where its troops committed atrocities. Final passage of the bills would represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by the Japanese military in the decades since the war.

Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war. But the legislation is supported by the United States, which has welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security as a counterweight to a more assertive China. In an address to a joint meeting of the United States Congress in April, Abe had pledged that he would enact the legislation to strengthen Japan’s already close ties to the United States.

Abe’s success pushing through the vote has political costs: Voters oppose the legislation by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys. The Abe government’s support ratings, which were once high, have fallen to around 40% in several polls taken this month.

Katsuya Okada, head of the largest opposition party, said before the opposition walkout, “It is a huge mistake to set aside a constitutional interpretation built up by governments for 70 years without sufficient public understanding and debate.”

Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them if it had been free to act. “These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe,” he said after Thursday’s vote.

China condemned passage of the bills, describing them as a potential threat to peace in Asia and invoking Japan’s wartime aggression. Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in a statement: “We solemnly urge the Japanese side to draw hard lessons from history, stick to the path of peaceful development, respect the major security concerns of its Asian neighbors, and refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability.”

With opposition lawmakers boycotting the vote, the bills passed with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Abe, and its smaller coalition partner, Komeito, which control a majority of seats in the legislature’s lower house, the House of Representatives. To become law, they must still be approved by the upper chamber, but in the unlikely event that the package is rejected, the lower house can override that decision. Japanese judges are mostly unwilling to overrule the government on matters of security.

The upper house is scheduled to debate the legislation for 60 days, keeping the issue in the public eye and potentially fueling more protests.

Abe has long argued that the Constitution should be amended to remove its restrictive antiwar provisions, but changing the charter would require a national referendum that he would probably lose. For now, at least, a contested reinterpretation of the Constitution appears to be the most he can hope for.

On Wednesday night, large crowds gathered outside Parliament after the bills were approved by a committee in an emotional and chaotic session. The crowds were estimated by organizers to number some 100,000, which would make the protest the largest antigovernment demonstration in Japan since protests in 2012 against the proposed restart of nuclear power plants, a year after the nuclear accident in Fukushima.

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~StMA

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Japan seeks better ties with Russia

Putin and AbeRussian President Vladimir Putin and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 29, 2013

Michael Lipin reports for Voice of America (VOA) (via GlobalSecurity.org), February 12, 2014, that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying hard to improve relations with Russia, a neighbor with whom Tokyo has yet to sign a peace treaty after the end of World War II.

Since taking office in December 2012 Abe has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin five times. Their latest encounter was a significant gesture by the Japanese leader when Abe added prestige to Russia’s opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics by accepting Putin’s invitation to attend last Friday’s event in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Western leaders stayed away, in an apparent protest at Putin’s stance on homosexuals.

Abe also had a lunch meeting with Putin on Saturday and his commitment to make a rare visit to Japan in the second half of this year.

Abe has a variety of motivations for reaching out to Russia, which has been receptive to closer ties with Japan in some areas, but not others. Those motives include:

1. Asia Society analyst Ayako Doi told VOA that one factor driving Abe closer to Russia is a worsening of Japan’s relations with its two other regional neighbors, China and South Korea, both of whom have toughened their positions on maritime territorial disputes with Japan in recent years. Beijing and Seoul also have long resented what they see as Tokyo’s failure to atone for wartime aggression in the first half of the 20th century. ‘There is no improvement in sight for those relationships, so Abe is looking to Russia as a potential bright spot in his foreign policy initiatives,’ Doi told VOA.

2. Doi said Japan also wants to stop Putin from becoming an even closer ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping and potentially supporting China’s claims to Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea. Xi also attended the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony and won a meeting with Putin, although without the luncheon granted to Abe.

3. Another motivation behind Japan’s Russian outreach is its hope to resolve a decades-old territorial dispute that has held up the signing of a Japan-Russia peace treaty. Japan has long sought to reclaim four islands off the northern coast of Hokkaido from Russia, whose then-Soviet forces captured them in 1945, days before then end of World War II. James Schoff, an Asia analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Abe has reasons to be hopeful for a resolution of that dispute because both Japan and Russia acknowledge the dispute, and there is a history of negotiation between them, ever since the end of the war. All of which make the Japan-Russia territorial dispute more manageable for Japan than its maritime disputes with China and South Korea. “In those cases, the parties still are in a situation where neither side will acknowledge that a dispute even exists,” Schoff said. ‘The Koreans say Dokdo island in the Sea of Japan/East Sea is theirs and they are on it, and any claims to it by Japan are completely false. In the case of the East China Sea’s Senkaku islands, the Japanese insist the islands are Japan’s and under their administration, while China says Japan must at least acknowledge that there is a dispute over the islands [known in Chinese as Diaoyu].

In a gesture to Japan, Russia held a round of peace treaty negotiations at the level of deputy foreign minister in Tokyo on January 31. But, there was no breakthrough. Moscow reiterated its long-held stance on the four disputed islands that it calls the Southern Kurils, saying they became Russian as a result of World War Two. Japan considers the islands to be its Northern Territories. No date for further talks has been set.

Doi said the Russian leader currently has little reason to make territorial concessions, “For Russia, making the Japanese hopeful about an eventual signing of a treaty is a very good thing, because it can be dangled as a prize to entice Japanese investment and other types of cooperation.”

4. Schoff said Japan’s shutdown of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster also has left it in greater need of fossil fuel imports, particularly natural gas from Russia.

5. For its part, Moscow has a key incentive to boost its economic ties with Japan in areas such as energy, and Putin has made it a national priority to develop oil, gas and other resources in Russia’s Far East and Siberia – economically-neglected areas where Japanese investment would be welcome.

6. Schoff said Russia also has a motive to seek a better political alliance with Japan, “There is some worry in Moscow about China’s rising military budgets and military expansionist maneuvers in the maritime sphere. I think Russia likes to have friends in different places and would not mind having a stronger relationship with Japan as a counterweight in that regard.” But Doi said Moscow is unlikely to take Tokyo’s side in the dispute with Beijing about the East China Sea.

~StMA