Marching to Militancy

Beijing Review | 作者: Shi Yongming | 时间: 2014-04-21 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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by Shi Yongming

The Japanese Government approved three principles on the transfer of defense equipment on April 1, replacing its 1967 principles on arms exports which turned into a virtual blanket ban of Japan's weapons exports in 1976. According to the new principles, Japan has shifted its stance from banning arms exports to encouraging weapons sales. It is a major step by the country to speed up building a military power and marks a significant change in the war-renouncing country's defense stance for the first time in nearly half a century. The change is sure to have a major impact on the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.


Building military industry

Japan's industrial capital is one of the major driving forces of the country's move on modifying its arms sales principles. Japan has highly developed civilian industries, but due to the impact of the long-term domestic economic downturn and international financial crisis, its industrial capital urgently needs to find a new way out. Against this backdrop, the Japan Business Federation, an influential business lobby, proposed to the Japanese Government in 2009 to remove the self-imposed arms export restrictions while revising its National Defense Program Guidelines, thus allowing Japanese enterprises to participate in the joint development of sophisticated weapons with international partners. In August 2010, the federation formally submitted a proposal letter to the Japanese Government, requesting an amendment of the 1967 "three principles" on arms exports.

The Japan Business Federation's proposal aims on the one hand to boost Japan's military industry through encouraging weapons sales, and on the other hand to allow the country to gain more sophisticated military technology and devices through international cooperation. Moreover, if private enterprises were endowed with the capacity to develop and produce sophisticated weapons, the Japanese Government could allocate more of its defense budgets to self-developed weaponry such as submarines, tanks and spy satellites.

Additionally, the military strategic needs of the United States are an important external factor promoting Japan's industrial capital to march into the military industry. After the Cold War, Washington has frequently adopted a military approach to settle international problems. Washington's military strategy has promoted the transition of the U.S.-Japan alliance from defense to global intervention. The United States has also continued to strengthen its front military deployment in the Asia-Pacific, including building regional missile defense systems with Japan as a pivotal point. With the support of the United States, Japan broke restrictions of the 1967 "three principles" in 2004 as it has since been jointly developing the missile defense systems with the United States.

Breaking key promises

However, the fundamental catalyst for lifting the ban on Japan's arms exports has been the political agenda of Japan's right-wing groups to make the country a military superpower. In the 1980s, Japan put forward its "political superpower" strategy and later the deceptive "normal country" theory. Since then, breaking the Japanese pacifist Constitution and building a military superpower have become main targets for the far right.

As an iconic figure, Shinzo Abe has been attempting to get rid of the restrictions that the postwar system imposed on Japan since he first took office as Japanese prime minister in 2006, actively promoting the process of building a military superpower. In January 2007, Abe upgraded the Japanese Defense Agency into a ministry, laying the groundwork for the transition of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) into a formal army. After winning a second term in 2012, he not only continued to promote the transition of the JSDF but also sped up the process of upgrading the country's weaponry system in an attempt to further breach arms export restrictions.

In recent years, the United States has been promoting the development of the fifth generation fighter F-35 with international joint efforts. Japan also showed interest in the new generation of fighters and planned to equip four F-35 fighters into its air force by 2017. As U.S. enterprises met technical obstacles during the development of the new fighter, Japan seized the opportunity to join the associated research and development of the F-35. It also planned to introduce F-35 assembly lines, producing most of the F-35 fighters it planned to buy at home. Thus, Japan can not only reduce its cost on purchasing F-35 fighters but also make the maintenance of these fighters much easier. Moreover, it is convenient for Japan to improve the performance of the fighters independently.

Sensing the opportunity, on March 1, 2013, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said exporting weaponry parts is not against Japan's 1967 "three principles" on arms exports and it will be conducive to the development of Japan's military industry. That same day, the Japanese Government held a security conference in which it decided to lift its ban on arms exports by reinterpreting the 1967 principles.

As a war-renouncing country for the past several decades, Japan has in place a pacifist Constitution based on the following five aspects: no formal army, no development of offensive weapons, restrictions on arms exports, commitments to being a nuclear weapons-free country and a ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense. However, now the first three promises of the Japanese Government have been broken. The fourth one is also in danger of being abandoned given Japan's persistent pursuit of nuclear technology. Moreover, the Abe administration is pushing for the revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution to lift the ban on collective self-defense so that it can carry out military operations along with the United States.

When the Japan Business Federation proposal was first raised in 2010, Kyodo News commented that the 1967 "three principles" on arms exports and the "three non-nuclear principles" are inscribed in history as evidence that Japan is a pacifist country. The Japanese news agency also said it is a matter for rejoicing that the then Naoto Kan administration refused the proposal. Japan, it seems, is moving farther and farther from being a pacifist country.

Threatening regional security

The problem caused by the modification of Japan's arms exports principles is not only that Japan will speed up its arms sales but also that it will use this as a means to pursue strategic political purposes.

Japan has been trying to build a military superpower, and then play its political role in the world arena based on its military strength. Apart from military deterrence, arms exports can also be used as a political tool in handling world matters.

In recent years, Japan has already begun to use arms exports to achieve regional strategic goals. This can be seen most clearly in its relations with the Philippines. On the surface, it seems that Japan worries about China's rise because of their sovereignty disputes over the Diaoyu Islands. But actually, Japan worries more about its influence in the region being overwhelmed by China in the future. It is also concerned that it will be gradually marginalized with the development of Sino-U.S. relations. Therefore, Tokyo tries to elevate its status in the U.S. Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy by intensifying regional tensions.

At the same time, to enhance its own regional influence, Japan makes every effort to sell the "China threat" theory in Southeast Asia and around the Indian Ocean. In the name of maritime security cooperation, it has conducted alliance diplomacy against China with countries in the region, with the Philippines, which also has territorial disputes with China, as one of its key potential allies.

During the Philippines-Japan summit in September 2011, the two sides reached an agreement on the South China Sea issue in addition to economic cooperation. According to their agreement, Japan would provide funding and training to help strengthen the Philippine Coast Guard. The two also agreed to establish an information exchange system relating to the South China Sea issue, which aims to build a platform for Japan's involvement in this issue. In May 2012, the Japanese Government decided to donate 10 patrol vessels to the Philippines, the costs of which would be covered by loans in yen to be provided as part of Japan's official development assistance.

The use of economic assistance funds for military aid hints that Japan is shifting its foreign policy to the direction of militarization. However, Japan's political system lacks the means to prevent this use of funds. This, from another perspective, has shown that there is still political soil to revive militarism in Japan. Thus, once Japan turns itself into an arms-exporting country and military power, it will become a major negative factor for regional security and stability.

The author is an associate research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies


Source: Beijing Review