Kevin P Clements
Shinzo Abe’s unilateral re-intrepretation of the Japanese Constitution was justified in terms of “Collective Defence” particularly of the the Japanese homeland. What was not stated, however, in the official justifications was that it also enables Japan to expand its defence industries and to securitise/militarise relationships with allies and neighbours. The first example of this was the joint agreement in Australia for Japan to supply defence technology for Australia’s new submarine fleet. The most recent , and more provocative example was yesterday’s announcement in Hanoi that Japan would give Vietnam 6 maritime patrol ships for patrols in the South China Sea. This is code for stepping up the maritime containment of China and for providing further military weight to Japan’s competing territorial claims against China. By these actions, Japan is currying military favour with neighbours so that they will support Japan’s desire for territorial expansion.
The offer, worth 500 million yen (£2.9 million, $5 million), was announced during a visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to Hanoi. Even though the six boats are used vessels, they expand and underline Japan’s commitment to “militarised” relations with neighbours. They are going to be accompanied by training and equipment to help coastguard and fisheries surveillance which is another way of saying Japan is giving Vietnam enhanced naval capacity to monitor China’s fishing and naval activity in the South China sea.
What is curious about all of these initiatives is that they are being justified in terms of maintaining international law. Japan is generating a carefully contrived legitimation of its own territorial assertions, and its expanded military cooperation with neighbours by arguing that it is the defender of international legal order and China is the challenger.
Fumio Kishida said that both Vietnam and Japan agree on “maintaining peace and stability” in regional waters, and that future disputes must be settled “in accordance with international law”.
The problem is, however, that China sees these actions as an assertion of Japanese territorial right, quiet sabre rattling and a deep Japanese commitment to securitising political relationships in North East Asia. They are also seen as part of the wider United States containment of China . In any event, they are not helpful to the promotion of peaceful relationships in the region. They do not build confidence between the nations of the region and they are promoting policies that are reminiscent of the worst days of the 20th century rather than more enlightened days in the 21st. I hope that there are strong political voices and parties in Japan who will return Japan to a more creative role as a peaceloving and “pacifist” nation in North East Asia.