Monday, October 20, 2014
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Military Transparency and Asian Security

TOKYO – We have all heard the saying, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” That is particularly true where Asian security is concerned. Indeed, I believe that a framework under which Asian governments publicly disclose their military budgets needs to be established if we are to build trust and avoid a regional arms race.

More broadly, keeping military expansion in check, enlarging the number of countries that conclude the Arms Trade Treaty, and improving mutual understanding among national defense authorities are now the paramount issues facing Asia. They should be the focus of the East Asia Summit, which in turn should become the premier forum for taking up regional security issues and ensuring that stability is maintained.

Military expansion is inherently incompatible with Asia’s move toward the center of the global economy. The fruits of prosperity should be reinvested in improving people’s lives, not in weapons that can take them.

And yet safeguarding the rule of law counts most. For example, Japan will offer its utmost support for efforts by ASEAN member countries to ensure the security and free navigation of the seas and skies. But let me be transparent about what Japan will actually support, and how.

We have already provided three new patrol vessels to Indonesia through grant aid cooperation and have decided to provide ten more to the Philippine Coast Guard. Moreover, we are moving forward with the necessary survey to enable us to provide such vessels to Vietnam.

No less important, when Japan sends hardware, experts and training follow, and we convey our sense of pride in committing ourselves to our duties. By cultivating a high degree of morale and proficiency, we strengthen the bonds between the peoples of Japan and recipient countries.

In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia alone, Japan has trained more than 250 coast guard personnel. In 2012, when we invited senior officials responsible for enforcing maritime law in each of the five major ASEAN countries to a month-long training program, three members of the Japan Coast Guard were assigned to each trainee, with all of them living, eating, and sleeping together under the same roof.

Recently, Japan formulated a new framework for transfers of defense equipment and technology to other countries. On the basis of appropriate controls and strict inspections, we can now offer rescue, transport, surveillance, and minesweeping equipment. To support ASEAN countries in safeguarding the seas, Japan will combine various options, including official development assistance, capacity building by the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), and provision of defense equipment and technology.

No country can secure its own peace alone anymore. That is why it is incumbent upon us in Japan to reconstruct the legal basis for collective self-defense and international cooperation, including participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations – a reform that my administration has begun.

The importance of this reform can hardly be overstated. The JSDF is now working to foster peace in South Sudan, under the flag of the UN mission there, alongside units from Cambodia, Mongolia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Republic of Korea, and China, as well as many civilian UN staffers and NGO personnel from various countries. All are partners with us in assisting South Sudan’s nation-building process.

But imagine now that civilian workers there, powerless to defend themselves, came under sudden attack by armed elements. Under the approach that Japanese governments have taken up to now, the JSDF would be unable to rescue the civilians. Is this really an appropriate response?

My government is thinking hard about this dilemma, and close consultation is underway within the ruling coalition. It is precisely because Japan depends so heavily on the international community for the stability of its external environment that we wish to work even more proactively for world peace.

Many generations of Japanese have walked a single path – that of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law – and we will continue to walk this path for generations to come. But, as we revitalize Japan’s economy, we need “new” Japanese who shoulder global responsibilities commensurate with their country’s size and economic resources.

These new Japanese will lose none of their good qualities. They will still loathe poverty, embrace universal values, and find joy in hard work. If anything has changed, it is that women are much more visible among these new Japanese. For example, all three of the Japanese judges and public prosecutors who helped draft Cambodia’s civil code were young women.

The new Japanese will actively serve the cause of Asian peace. In August 2011, President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines and Chairman Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front met in Narita, Japan. Three months ago, in March, the two sides finally reached a comprehensive peace agreement. When the new Bangsamoro local government assumes power two years from now, Japanese assistance teams will be there from the start.

Japan is already focusing on giving women in the region the skills they need to earn a living. In Mindanao, where Japan built a vocational training center for women, the sounds of gunshots and angry cries have been replaced by the whir of sewing machines.

All of this is nothing other than an expression of Japan’s determination to spare no effort for the sake of peace, security, and wider prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. By working with our regional allies and partners, including the United States and ASEAN, we will translate that determination into a rock-solid zone of stability.

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  1. CommentedDonald Lee

    Abe in this article provides laundry lists of actions he has been pursuing lately, which are certainly respectful in some regards, but wittingly put asides important aspects when talking about “military transparency.” Japan’s imperialist and fascist movement in the 19th~20th century led to the annexation of South Korea and the “Nanking massacre in China,” which involved massive scale of rape and murder, resulting in a non-combatant death toll of approximately 300,000 in Nanking alone. During Korea’s colonization period under Japan, it is known that Koreans were subjected under widespread forced labor, conscription, and operations of comfort women. The total number of deaths is believed to top 1m, and the number of forced comfort women ranges between 100,000~200,000.

    Not only the modernized Japan, but also the ancient Japanese ruling powers constantly invaded the borders of China’s and Korea’s territory, and occasionally triggered large-scale wars. For instance, the 1592 Japanese invasions of Korea involved some 300,000 Japanese troops attacking the Korean peninsula, leading to over 1m of casualties, where the Korean-Chinese allied military forces and civilians made up the majority.

    As we can see from the not-so-distant historical events, Japan’s hostile mindset is deeply rooted, and there is no reason to believe that they will behave in a different way just because they are disguising under the democratic regime nowadays. When it comes to foreign relations with others, domestic political setting probably does not count that much. What is really more important in the context of military policy discussion is the growing instabilities that can brew from a country’s course of actions.

    Currently, Japan’s attempt of revising the pacifist constitution, rearming the self-defense force(SDF), keep claiming the territory of neighbors, regularly visiting the Yasukuni Shrine (a place where the Japanese people commemorates war criminals that committed murders, looting, rape during the war), manipulating the history textbooks to instill nationalistic mindsets for its young fellows (covering the Japanese fan’s face with paint is the imperial Japanese flag used in WW2, which is equivalent to the Nazi symbol), are all stirring up unwanted and unnecessary buildup of tensions and conflicts in the region, especially in China and Korea.

    I clearly understand that one of the major pillars of the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia” involves Japan to take up more responsibilities militarily as the country is the major economic powerhouse in the region and has the wherewithal to meet the U.S.’s demands, but I think this is a major policy blunder on the U.S.’s part.

    The biggest reason why I conceive it in this manner is that I think Japan’s current leadership lacks the spirit of authentic cooperation and is merely acting on its self-interests. The examples stated in this commentary simply showcase assortments of military drills it held with other nations and financial, personnel aids it gave out to the region. While these are all certainly not something to be dismissed altogether, it surely does not warrant Japan to suddenly shift itself from its pacifist laws that are set in stone. Above examples, long-time bullying history and recent checkered relationships with China and Korea all attest to the fact that Japan is unwilling to cooperate with what is really is in stake for its national interests. Unless there are meaningful cooperation on these fronts, resurging Japan will only lead to competition in military spending in neighbor countries.

    In addition, I think the current arrangement lacks any institutional settings to enforce stability in the region. For example, the European nations formed the EU out of desperation to avoid another devastating war that plagued the region in the early 20th century. However, the Far East lacks these arrangements, and only relies on the U.S. to keep the stability going. Although it is easier said than done, if the U.S. feels exceedingly burdensome because of its constrained budgets, it would be better to complement this factor with a formation of an institution among these three nations to ensure that a war or conflict never happens in the future instead of solely turning to the controversial Japan.

  2. Commentedhari naidu

    Abe is begging the issue...and avoiding the inevitable.

    Imperial history of Japanese occupation of mainland China and its concomitant atrocities have hitherto not been resolved nor has this son of former Japanese leader(s) admitted the errors and asked for forgiveness. Instead he is repeatedly visiting the temple shrine of former fascist leaders - only to upset Beijing and exacerbating bilateral relation.

    When will Abe admit all those atrocities and apologize for it on behalf of Japanese people?

    As for ASEAN, he can forget it. None of the ASEAN countries are able and willing to forego or exacerbate their (future) good bilateral relation with mainland China.

  3. CommentedDavid Morgan

    It is wonderful to see these policies, however Japan must face up to it's past once and for all make a clear statement of apology and acceptance of past abuses. Once this is done then the antipathy felt by many countries can in time be washed away. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, then and only can Japan sit in it's rightful place amongst the world powers, and who knows as a permanent member of the security council which needs to be overhauled. Europe is top heavy Russia has become a rogue state, so who knows what the future holds.

  4. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's piece comes weeks after Japan had marked the 67th anniversary of its postwar constitution on May 3. There is a debate in Japan over whether to revise its pacifist constitution alongside with Abe's push to build up its military capability.
    The ruling party under Abe has long urged for a revision but been unable to convince the public. He has been trumpeting Japan's willingness to bear a greater burden of securing peace and stability in Asia and around the globe. In this respect he urges the government to re-interpret the war-renouncing constitution, without having to win public approval, which has upset his opponents. Many voice their concern, that their country could return to the days of expansionism. They criticise the reactionary Abe for fulfilling his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi's dream. Kishi - a suspected war criminal but never faced charges and later became prime minister - denounced the constitution, saying it was a humiliation imposed upon Japan by the US. Abe's chauvinism has alienated China and South Korea. Beijing and Seoul are also embroiled in territorial claims with Tokyo in the East China Sea and Sea of Japan.
    In this piece, Abe elaborates the generosity Japan showers on countries - the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia - in the South China Sea and provide them with "hardware, experts and training". Furthermore he claims that, in order to exercise "collective self-defense" and take part in "international cooperation, including participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations", Japanese servicemen would have to be armed in conflict areas. The US endorses Japan to have its "Self-Defense Forces". Amid its pivot to Asia, the US needs a staunch ally in the region.
    Abe never fails to underscore what a prominent role women play in Japan. "If anything has changed, it is that women are much more visible among these new Japanese". Three young women jurists from Japan had "helped draft Cambodia’s civil code". On the other hand a draft revision was proposed by his party in 2012, aimed at promoting a conformist Japan with traditional patriarchal values, placing family units above individuals and elevating the emperor to the head of state.
    Despite his controversial foreign policies, Abe still has a good sense of humour: "Japan built a vocational training center for women, the sounds of gunshots and angry cries have been replaced by the whir of sewing machines". Indeed, the Philippine women in Mindanao are grateful for this noble gesture!

  5. CommentedGijs Leenders

    While this op-ed speaks to significant shared security initiatives that are of the utmost importance for the stable development of East Asia and South East Asia as centers of the global economy, an important omission must be noted identified.

    Prime Minister Abe solely mentions the People's Republic of China in reference to its peace-keeping presence in South Sudan, but neglects to address it directly within the broader context of Asian Security.

    It seems clear that this topic is avoided on purpose, but any meaningful dialogue on military transparency in Asia should start with an admonition that Sino-Japanese rivalry seems to be the most serious contemporary issue threatening Asian Security. Why leave it out Mr. Abe?

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