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Japan is playing a dangerous game
Publication Date : 08-10-2012
Apart from playing out the farce of "purchasing" China's Diaoyu Islands, Japan has also fuelled territorial disputes with Russia and South Korea. By doing so, Japan is challenging the world's victory over fascism and the post-war order in the Asia-Pacific region.
For decades, Japan has been relentlessly trying to whitewash the crimes committed by its military before and during World War II. Japan's Ministry of Education has time and again authorised the use of history textbooks that sanitise the country's aggressive military past, and Japanese politicians have ignored criticism at home and abroad to visit the Yasukuni Shrine that honours class-A war criminals. For instance, Junichiro Koizumi visited the shrine six times as Japan's prime minister and recently two Japanese cabinet ministers did the same on the 67th anniversary of the country's surrender at the end of World War II.
Japan has been tilting toward right-wing politics in recent years and has made two strategic decisions: to establish the country as a new oceanic state and adopt a new defence strategy. These reveal its motive to defy the post-war order.
Japan passed the Basic Act on Ocean Policy in 2007 saying that, as a maritime nation, it is critical for it to establish a new oceanic state that harmonises peaceful and proactive development of the sea while preserving the marine environment. Subsequently, Japan adopted the Basic Plan on Ocean Policy, based on the act, in 2008, which stipulates the course of action it should take on maritime affairs.
In December 2009, the then Yukio Hatoyama government drew up a basic policy on the preservation and management of remote islands with the aim of appropriately managing the sea areas under Japan's jurisdiction, which the country claims includes its exclusive economic zone and adds up to about 12 times the size of its land area. This shows Japan's efforts to establish a new oceanic state have entered a new phase.
In July 2010, the Japanese cabinet approved a basic plan to conserve and develop the base facilities in low-water mark areas for the use of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Together with the Basic Act on Ocean Policy and other related documents, this forms Japan's marine legal system. This not only encompasses Japan's territorial disputes with China, South Korea and Russia, but also justifies the demarcation of the controversial Okinotorishima as an island, not a rock, and making it the baseline of its exclusive economic zone, a move strongly opposed by China and South Korea.
Since 2010, the Japanese government has sanctioned hundreds of maritime projects as part of its oceanic state-building efforts. Japan's Ministry of Defence, as the most directly involved government body, has obtained a considerable amount of budgetary funds, even though the country's civil servants face pay cuts because of the huge fiscal deficit.
In December 2010, the Japanese government issued the National Defence Programme Guidelines for 2011 and beyond. The guidelines accord priority to ensuring security of Japan's sea and air space and enhancing response to attacks on islands, and reveal that Japan will develop a dynamic defence force that can respond to and deter "attacks".
Japan's revised defence policy, which assumes China to be an enemy, and its "expanding and intensifying maritime activities" as threats to other countries in the region, has changed Japan's military layout. Needless to say, the move is largely aimed at China.
According to the guidelines, Japan will promote bilateral and multilateral exchanges, hold joint military training and exercises in a multi-layered manner, enhance security cooperation with Australia, India and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and facilitate the signing of a Japan-South Korea intelligence-sharing agreement. More importantly, it will help Tokyo consolidate the Japan-US alliance, a process which it has already started with vigour, for instance, by covering the construction costs of US military facilities outside Japan on condition that its Self-Defence Forces can use them.
Japan has fuelled territorial disputes with its neighbours citing security concerns to accelerate the process of realising its strategic ends. For instance, besides "buying" the Diaoyu Islands in Northeast Asia, Japan has designated Feb. 22 as Takeshima Day to claim its sovereignty over the disputed islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea. It has also authorised the use of textbooks that say South Korea has been occupying Takeshima Islands unlawfully. In Southeast Asia, Japan has joined hands with the US to fan the flames of the South China Sea dispute and supplied patrol vessels to the Philippines amid the China-Philippines standoff over the Huangyan Island (also known as Scarborough Shoal).
Tokyo has even eased its decades-long weapons export ban to participate in multinational arms projects, and its right-wing activists have intensified their call to amend Japan's war-renouncing constitution.
All these planning and provocative moves show that Japan is out to challenge the post-world war order set by the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation. So the possibility of Japan using force to settle international disputes cannot be ruled out, which should sound the alarm for all peace-loving countries.
It is also to be noted that, as a self-proclaimed advocate of peace, the US has been flip-flopping between using Japan to contain China and using China's influence to make a difference in global governance, and has thus lost its moral high ground as a defender of the world's victory over fascism.
The author is a researcher in Japan studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.