Australian – Japan relations driven by defence interests and a desire to be deputy sheriff to the United States in North East and South East Asia.
Kevin P Clements
Abe left domestic political controversy in Japan-this week- to visit New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea . The discourse from the official communiques is a wonderful example of political sophistry concealing more than it reveals.
This was a visit designed to reap immediate benefits from the reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution. If the reinterpretation had not taken place, Japan would have been unable to sign a defence agreement with Australia . This new defence agreement allows the Japanese Government to transfer Japanese defence equipment and technology to Australia and enables the joint Japanese and Australian development of Australia’s new submarine force.
When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks about his determination to pursue peace in Asia by strengthening defence ties with Australia one could be forgiven for asking what he means by peace in Asia given that he has now subverted the major peace provision of the Japanese Constitution and remains at loggerheads with both China and Korea.
In an historic address to a joint sitting of Australia’s parliament Abe said that Japan “is now determined to do more to enhance peace in the region and peace in the world and would do so by strengthening its ties with Australia. Our countries both love peace. We value freedom and democracy and we hold human rights and the rule of law dear,” he added, calling the relationship “special”.
He carefully omitted any mention of the ways in which his administration unilaterally challenged democracy in Japan by subverting the Japanese Constitution to the chagrin of democratic and consitutional experts in Japan.
Abe clearly values his relationship with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who described Japan as “a very, very close friend”. Abe, in turn, said Japan’s push to “change its legal basis for security was so it could work with other nations and “build an international order that upholds the rule of law . Our desire is to make Japan a country that is all the more willing to contribute to peace in the region and beyond. It is for this reason that Japan has raised the banner of proactive contribution to peace.” This sort of comment rings rather hollow coming from the most hawkish post war Prime Minister.
Both Abbot and Abe are on the far right of the political spectrum in both countries. Both feel ambivalent about China and both subscribe to the global containment of China led by the United States. Even though Abe indicated that “The door to China is open from the Japanese side and .. hoped.. that the Chinese side take the same posture,” he carefully avoided any discussion on whether recent foreign policy moves in Japan made a mockery of this offer. His primary objective was to reiterate that the reinterpetation of Article 9 means that Japan could now become “a more capable strategic partner in our region”.
Prime Minister Abbott, explicitly supports Abe’s desire for a more robust Japanese military and a willingness to engage in out of area operations when and as Tokyo desires to project power beyond Japan.
The problem is that this emphasis on military defence does little or nothing to advance stable peaceful relationships in the region. Abe has met Abbot twice since his election but has not managed to meet his Chinese and South Korean counterparts both of whom who remain very critical of the destabilising effects of many of his domestic and foreign policy decisions.
Both Korea and China remain very wary of Abe’s attempts to reinterpret war history. They are wary of his decision to restart Japanese nuclear reactors before the after effects of Fukushima have been resolved and they both remain deeply ambivalent about his decision to lift a 70 year old ban on Japanese troops fighting alongside others ( such as Australia and the US) in overseas military interventions. The fact that Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe are able to agree is because both of them wish to play the role of Deputy Sheriff to the United States in North East and South East Asia.