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Tokyo on the wrong path

Publication Date : 08-11-2012


Japan is flexing its military muscle with its ally the United States prior to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which opens in Beijing on Thursday.

The joint military exercises that began on Monday were originally planned to be a mock invasion of an uninhabited island off the southern coast of Japan, until the Yoshihiko Noda administration came to its senses.

Japan is anxious to gain the backing of the US for its illegal claim to the Diaoyu Islands, and it hopes to bully the Chinese into giving up their legitimate rights by asserting the islands are covered by the Japan-US Security Treaty.

In an interview with Asahi Shimbun on October 30, Kenichiro Sasae, Japan's new ambassador to the US, said the US cannot be neutral over the Senkaku Islands, as the Diaoyu Islands are known in Japan.

Although the US officially remains neutral on this issue, when Japan announced the cancellation of the joint amphibious landing that was originally part of the joint military exercises now under way, sources from Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs were quoted as saying that US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who visited Japan late last month, was unhappy with the decision.

The Barack Obama administration's economic, diplomatic and military re-engagement with the Asia-Pacific region, the so-called pivot to Asia, has seen it strengthening bilateral relations with the US' partners in the region, primarily Japan, which it sees as its key partner in its bid to contain China. This is eroding Japan's capacity to acquire a more active role in the alliance and be an independent player in the region.

But Tomagosaki Ukeru, a former official of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says it is naive to think that the US will automatically swing into line with Japan because of the Japan-US Security Treaty. He said Japanese politicians and citizens should understand the advantages of the principle of "shelving differences", as the US' return to Asia is for its own interests rather than those of its allies.

The US military has told Japan that it plans to start training flights of Osprey aircraft over the main islands this month. But it hasn't disclosed the precise details of the flights that are believed to include transportation and midair refueling, as the US is not obliged to reveal its military plans in advance.

The aircraft has drawn strong opposition and stirred further controversy in Okinawa, where there is already anger at crimes committed by US servicemen stationed there, because of its poor safety record, which includes a series of fatal accidents overseas.

Much of the US' motivation for strengthening ties in the region seems to be so it can sell arms to its allies and have bases for its own forces.

Japan is building up its own military strength. Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Sunday that Japan's Ministry of Defense has demanded 3 billion yen (US$372 million) over the next four years to develop an unmanned drone. The Defense Ministry officially signed a contract with the US government in June to buy four US-made F-35 stealth jets. And Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto indicated on October 30 that the Self-Defense Forces, the name of Japan's military, may use US Osprey aircraft, despite its poor safety record.

The Noda administration has persisted in trying to provoke China. It approved the Japanese government's nationalisation of three of China's Diaoyu Islands the day after Chinese President Hu Jintao asked Noda not to proceed with the plan, when they met briefly on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on September 9, and concluded the contracts on September 11.

But instead of selling itself to US interests in a bid to regain lost status, it should bear in mind what Kohara Masahiro, Consul-General of Japan in Australia, said in his book on how Japan can best protect its own interests. He said the top two priorities are to keep stability in East Asia and prevent its neighbouring nations from becoming enemies.


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