Forced into a humiliating surrender at the close of World War II after two of its cities were nuked, Japan vowed never again to engage in armed conflict. This pacifist principle is enshrined in the country’s Constitution, Article 9 of which states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”
For decades the Japanese government saw no reason to revise this basic tenet, and its military was content with its role as a self-defense force. After all, even without an armed might, Japan had been unchallenged as Asia’s economic superpower.
But there has been a seismic shift in Asian geopolitics. China has displaced Japan as the world’s second biggest economy and has become aggressive in asserting its territorial designs in the region. Such expansionist moves have put it on a collision course with its neighbors who are desperately trying to hold off Chinese encroachment.
Japan is feeling the threat. The Senkakus, a sprinkle of islands in the East China Sea that are under Japanese control, are also being claimed by the Chinese.
Confronted by the dangerous flashpoint, Tokyo began to recalibrate its political strategy to make it more attuned to the realities at hand. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is at the vanguard of a movement to repeal Article 9 and open the way to a military build-up to counter the Chinese threat.
Long considered to have militarist leanings, Mr. Abe has dramatically increased Japan’s defense spending and forged a closer security partnership with its staunchest ally, the United States.
The US was more than willing to let its former foe retool its armed forces. Washington sees a militarily robust Japan as an effective counterweight to China’s growing threat, as the US goes ahead with its pivot to Asia.
The rearming of Japan, however, will upset the power balance in the region. Already, Beijing has taken umbrage at the Abe agenda, warning that it only ratchets up the tension and heightens the possibility of armed conflict.
So why is our President applauding Mr. Abe’s initiative? Because Japan and the Philippines are forming a protective alliance against Beijing’s moves to take over islands, reefs and shoals it claims even if these are ours or Japan’s.
After a meeting with the Japanese leader in Tokyo last week, Benigno Aquino 3rd spoke in glowing terms of the efforts to rewrite Article 9.
“We believe that nations of goodwill can benefit only if the Japanese government is empowered to assist others and is allowed to come to the aid of those in need, especially in the area of collective self-defense,” President Aquino said.
“We therefore do not view with alarm any proposal to revisit the Japanese constitution if the Japanese people so desire, especially if this enhances Japan’s ability to address its international obligations and brings us closer to … our shared goals of peace, stability and mutual prosperity,” he continued.
What the President simply means is that the Philippines likes a military power like Japan to run to when China’s push becomes a shove.
Mr. Aquino even hinted about having a security alliance with Japan, similar to the recently inked Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US.
His statements definitely will not endear us to the Chinese, who are right now busy cementing their claim on islands that are clearly in our waters.
We do not wish our government to refrain from developing alliances for our protection against Chinese or any other encroacher. But we wish President Aquino would be more diplomatically adept and less orally incompetent in dealing with our China problem.
We do not see a disconnect between the President’s embracing Mr. Abe’s rearm-Japan advocacy and the Philippine government’s efforts to settle its maritime row with China through legal, diplomatic and peaceful means. He just didn’t have to be Japan’s bullhorn. He could just have made noises about Japan’s and our new-found reliance on each other against external threats–without being an advocate of Japanese militarization.
For the fact is the world–including the Japanese people– must not forget that Japan’s militarist rulers inflicted great physical and moral damage on Asians — especially the Philippines and the Filipinos. Yes, Japan has tried to make up for that damage by its reparations and monetary aid. But it has yet to completely admit that it did something terribly and irreparably wrong. And Japanese militarists, as well as authors and publishers of textbooks, are still proud of what they did in World War II. They do not even want to admit their guilt against the Filipinas their soldiers used as sex objects.
Perhaps President Aquino is morally on the side of Japan on this issue of whether Japan was guilty or not because his own grandfather was alleged to be a leading collaborator with the Japanese military conquerors of the Philippines.
He should learn to curb these personal feelings. That way he could become a more astute diplomat and deal more effectively with ally Japan and bully China.