On 1st July, Shinzo Abe’s government made the monumental decision to allow a reinterpreting of the Japanese constitution that will permit collective self-defence. Whereas the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) have previously been restricted to defending their own country from attack, they will now be permitted to mobilize in defence of an ally.
The decision, which received little discussion in the Diet, has received heavy criticism at home and abroad. Japanese newspaper editorials have been scathing about the undemocratic and provocative nature of the decision, whilst protesters have lined the street in front of the Prime Minister’s office.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest uproar has come from the Chinese, the historical ‘victims’ of Japanese military aggression. The atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese forces in China between 1937 and 1945 are well-documented and the wrath of the Chinese press could not be contained.
Seeing the constitutional amendment as a clear statement of intent against the homeland, the People’s Daily claimed that Japan was ‘exaggerating the Chinese threat’. The Global Times suggested that the move would allow Japanese forces to ‘start going overseas for its killing spree again’.
Most poignantly, the China Daily railed against the notion that Abe’s move would allow Japan to become a more ‘normal’ country:
The recalcitrant attempts by Japanese politicians, including [Mr] Abe, to rewrite the history and their country’s unseemly record in World War II are reminders that Japan doesn’t deserve being treated as a normal country.
As part of his effort to whitewash Japan’s wartime military aggression, Abe’s constitutional “reinterpretation” followed his brazen visits to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors 14 Class-A war criminals, and the challenge of the Kono Statement, which acknowledged and apologized for Japan’s massive wartime sex slavery of Asian women.
The enmity from China towards Japan is understandable on one level given their recent history and the failure of Japanese politicians to properly recognise the full extent of their predecessors worst excesses. However, such expressions of outrage are both counter-productive and overblown.
Japan has every right to amend its constitution (although whether the alteration received enough consultation is an internal matter for the Japanese). As the world’s third biggest economy and a substantial donor of foreign aid, it will be valuable to have a stronger Japanese participation in international security operations if the need is required. Indeed, their failure to send troops during the first Gulf War (because of constitutional restrictions) led to a strict rebuff from Kuwait.
The Japanese government should, once and for all, acknowledge the atrocities committed during WWII and refrain from encouraging the school textbook revisionism likely to foster worsening relations with China in future generations.
The constant demand from the Chinese for their neighbours leaders’ to kowtow apologetically for past misdeeds is unnecessary. It is an excuse to prevent improved ties, based on notions of jealousy and racism.
China sees the redefinition of Japan’s military capabilities as a concerted attempt, with American support, to defy its ‘rise’. However, when such a rise is supposed to be ‘peaceful’, as the CCP always maintains it is, then what is the concern?
As long as the Chinese don’t attack a Japanese ally, Tokyo will have no requirement to exercise its adopted notion of collective self-defence. Such a scenario would confirm an hypocrisy in the Chinese most unbecoming to their international reputation.