NOT a few Filipino eyebrows were raised at the news that the Philippines was strengthening its security ties with Japan to the extent that the two countries would be bound by a virtual military alliance and Japanese soldiers could be expected to march on Philippine soil in military exercises aimed at interoperability in joint combat. The announcement of the negotiation of a PH-Japan Visiting Forces Agreement has certainly stirred memories of the horrific atrocities suffered by Filipinos in the hands of Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Filipinos are apparently asked to swallow the bitter pill of those memories because this military entanglement with Japan could help compensate for the sad state of the country’s defense and deterrent capabilities in the face of the growing aggressiveness of China in the West Philippine Sea.
A stamp of “Rush” seems to have been pressed on this projected military partnership between the Philippines and Japan. Even before negotiation of the VFA could be started, Philippine and Japanese forces were in air and naval exercises together. Of course, it was explained that no violation of the Constitution was involved because the exercises took place outside the Philippines’ territorial waters. But didn’t the Japanese planes take off from a Philippine military base?
There are more than legal technicalities involved in this matter. It is fortunate that the Philippine Constitution requires that “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate…” This projected military partnership calls for serious and thorough consideration by the Senate and the public. We should subject the terrain to a rigorous survey and study to be sure of what we are getting into. Are we getting more than we bargain for?
What appears to be the apt subject of public debate is not just the arrangements under which the stay in the Philippines of Japanese soldiers shall be allowed, like the matter of criminal jurisdiction should a Japanese soldier be accused of a criminal offense. but also the very wisdom and perspicacity of engaging in this military partnership.
The Philippines has chosen a rules-based approach to its dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea. Its projected military partnership with Japan would have implications that might not be in consonance with that approach. That alliance would entail Japan’s violating the constraints placed by the UN Charter and its own postwar Constitution on the use of its military forces and resources for purposes beyond that of self-defense.
The role of Japan in the Second World War lives on not only in the memories of the victims of that war. It is alive in media headlines. Of the countries attacked and devastated by Japan in the Se3cond World War, the Philippines has made the lamest demand for a clear apology. The case of the “comfort women” has yet to see closure. The recent grand parade in Beijing served notice that China has not forgotten Japan’s invasion and occupation and remained firm in its determination to guard against Japanese military aggressiveness in the future.
The constitution of the world, the UN Charter, contains provisions meant to constrain Japan from reemerging as an aggressive military power. Articles 53 and 107 allude to Japan as an “enemy state” and provide the following:
“CHARTER VIII : REGIONAL ARRANGEMENTS
The Security Council shall, where appropriate, utilize such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority. But no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council, with the exception of measures against any enemy state, as defined in paragraph 2 of this Article, provided for pursuant to Article 107 or in regional arrangements directed against renewal of aggressive policy on the part of any such state, until such time as the Organization may, on request of the Governments concerned, be charged with the responsibility for preventing further aggression by such a state.
The term enemy state as used in paragraph 1 of this Article applies to any state which during the Second World War has been an enemy of any signatory of the present Charter.
CHARTER XII: TRANSITIONAL SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS
Nothing in the present charter shall invalidate or preclude action, in relation to any state which during the Second World War has been an enemy of any signatory in the present Charter, taken or authorized as a result of that war by the Governments having responsibility for such action.
Despite Japan’s admission as a member-state of the UN and becoming one of the biggest contributors to the organization’s budget, these provisions are not dead. They certainly are not to China and other countries that have opposed Japan’s bid to be a veto-wielding Permanent Member of the UN Security Council in view of Japan being an enemy state alluded to in these provisions.
These provisions have not been tested because Japan has remained within the constraints of its postwar Constitution. These Charter provisions appear to give a carte blanche to any enforcement action against renewal of an aggressive policy on the part of Japan. A veiled warning could be discerned in the statements of China and the Koreas after passage of Prime Minister Abe’s security bills calling for a sense of “responsibility” on the part of Japan in pursuing a more activist or robust military posture abroad. Japan’s reinterpretation of its postwar Constitution to send forces abroad to assist allies may add to the volatile hair-trigger situation in the South China Sea.
The projected Philippine-Japan military partnership could be resting on tenuous grounds. The action of the Diet in approving those security bills reinterpreting the pacifist clauses of the Japanese Constitution may be questioned for its constitutionality in court. The passage of those bills faced massive, vociferous demonstrations and opinion polls showed that a majority of the Japanese people opposed the bills. The popularity of Prime Minister Abe has taken a drastic plunge, leaving in doubt his party’s staying in power for very long.
Certain observers anticipate those security bills may turn out to be of no use. But with determination and luck, the Abe Government may weather the opposition to this historic turn in Japan’s foreign affairs.
The turbulent passage of those security bills has brought into sharp relief the foreign hand behind the affair. While the US is the architect of Japan’s postwar Constitution, the revision of its pacifist clause to allow the deployment of Japanese forces to help allies abroad is in accord with recent attitudes and policies of the United States regarding and affecting military involvement abroad. The misadventures of the US in the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq and interventions in the Arab Spring , have engendered in the US isolationist tendencies including a reluctance to send ground forces abroad. In addition, fiscal difficulties afflict the military and strategic budget of the United States at a time when its global influence is increasingly challenged by the growing military and economic might of China. The US pivot to Asia aimed at containing China has sought to strengthen US defense treaty alliances and to get the allies to share in the financial burden of their respective alliances. Besides, Okinawa has complained about its burden of hosting US forces, causing the transfer of these forces to another part of the island or to Guam. With the reinterpretation of the Constitution, Japanese forces can now take the place of the mobile forces in Okinawa and the US forces can go home or fly elsewhere they are needed.
It would seem that there are more common interests involved between the partners of the PH-Japan relationship than the partners in the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty. Japan cannot of course be called an interloper in Asian affairs. Both countries have territorial disputes with China. But while Japan’s dispute wikth China over the Senkakus can be rightfully claimed as a matter of self-defense, the presence of Japanese forces in the South China Sea is another matter. Japan is less concerned about helping the Philippines than, like the United States, its free access to the waters where much of its sea-borne trade passes.
Access to “blue waters,” access to trade routes has always been a dangerous concern in international affairs: it is a proven cassus belli. It may be rash to tie our claims to Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea to the rivalry among major powers over access to trade routes. The Philippines in this looming military alliance directed at China will be an inferior partner, with little or no say on where this military alliance is headed. It is actually in a mendicant position , asking the US and Japan for equipment and funding to beef up its defense and deterrent capabilities. Its share in the burden of the alliance, with its strategic geographical location, may only be to allow itself to become a staging area and target of retaliatory attacks in the exchanges of fire between warring alliances.
The return to a bipolar world appears to be in the cards, a world divided with Russia and China leading one side, and the US, EU, and Japan on the other side. The development of the latter intercontinental alliance may be indicated by the recent news that Japan is interested in joining a NATO missiles-building consortium developing the SeaSparrow missile described “as an advanced ship-borne weapon designed to destroy anti-ship, sea-skimming missiles and attack aircraft” and the the US “encouraging (the move) because it could pave the way for Japan to lead similar partnerships in Asia.” This is worrying news for the Philippines and Asia. Maritime Asia can be the specialized setting for a modern, high-tech naval warfare.
The conflict over access to the all-important trade routes in the South China Sea is taking a life of its own, distinct from the disputes over rights over the waters surrounding islets, reefs, and marine features and the energy and fish resources under them. The two sets of conflicts might in the end be conjoined with the victorious powers taking control over those islets, reefs, and marine features not for the resources under their waters but for the possibility of reclaiming them to be facilities for ensuring or controlling the passage of vessels in the South China Sea. It has been estimated, after all, that the energy resources in the South China Sea would fill only a miniscule fraction of the needs of China, Japan, or the US.
It might be well to heed the advice of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu to their principals: Never ally yourself with a power much more superior to you for he will dominate and overwhelm you. This lesson was lost to Aguinaldo, who to his regret later welcomed the Americans as allies in the Revolution against Spain because he was reportedly not much of a reader.
It might be better for the Philippines to focus on its rules-based approach and to strengthen its defense and deterrent capabilities by its own resources and resourcefulness. It might be better to help nurture Asean as a force in the international community for peace and the peaceful settlement of disputes.