People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 08, 2013






Japan: Back to Militarism!


Yohannan Chemarapally


JAPANESE voters once again gave their vote of confidence to the right wing government led by Shinze Abe in the pivotal elections for the upper house held on July 23. The results have given the ruling coalition consisting of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito, a working majority in both the lower and upper houses. The government is planning to pass some ambitious bills. Abe is trying to radically overhaul Japanese foreign and economic policy. His much touted “Abenomics” has effectively devalued the Japanese currency, hoping in the process to make Japanese exports to the international market once again competitive. The Japanese government wants to revive the stagnant economy by pumping in 46 trillion yen (more than $400 billion).


On the foreign policy front, he has made competition with China his number one priority. Last year, China officially overtook Japan as the world’s second biggest economy. Encouraged by the Obama administration, Japan has been expending its energy raking up territorial disputes with neighboring China. Abe has described China as a country that had a “deeply ingrained” ambition to rake up territorial disputes with neighbors. The territorial dispute with China revolves round the tiny Senkaku/Diaayovu islands. Beijing was of course very angry with the Japanese prime minster’s statement and had demanded a clarification. The Japanese foreign ministry had to state that Abe’s quotes about China were “misleading”. Japan also has territorial disputes with South Korea over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands.


Abe has been threatening to rewrite the pacifist Japanese constitution which the Americans had imposed on the country after world war two. Abe has repeatedly stated that he wants the Japanese army, officially known as the “Self Defense Forces”, to be unfettered from the restraints imposed by a constitution which was drafted by an occupying force. Under the current constitution, the Japanese army cannot deploy its troops in foreign countries. Japan is one of America’s traditional and trusted allies in the region. For a long time, the Japanese political elite had cherished the dream of their army participating in the military adventures of the US in foreign climes under the guise of “collective self defense”. In one of his final campaign speeches before the recent elections to the upper house, Abe pledged to go ahead with far reaching constitutional changes to make Japan once again a “proud nation”.


The Japanese prime minister has not yet openly talked about amending Article 9 of the constitution which “renounces war” and “the threat of use of force as a means of settling international disputes”. Article 9 specifically prohibits “the maintenance of land, sea and air force”. This has not however prevented the Japanese state, with the active help of Washington, of making its “Self Defense Forces” one of the most powerful in the region and deploying them in so called “reconstruction activities” to help American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has also been encouraging the Japanese government to play a more robust security role in his “pivot to Asia” policy. Washington, from available indications, is tacitly supporting the prime minster Abe’s efforts to engage in “collective self defense” that would allow the Japanese army to conduct joint military operations with its counterparts in the US and elsewhere. After Abe took over as prime minister, the Japanese government has increased military spending for the first time in more than a decade.




The latest Japanese Defense White Paper released in July identifies China as the main threat and emphasizes on further expanding Japan’s military capabilities and the strengthening of ties with Washington. The LDP after winning elections in December last year had pledged to make Japan militarily stronger to take on a resurgent China. The LDP’s main campaign plank then was to build a “strong nation” and a “strong military”. The Japanese prime minster has also spoken about the need to have pre-emptive strike capability against enemy bases abroad. He said that “pre-emptive strikes” were essential to counteract the threat from missile strikes from hostile nations. Japanese leaders have been saying for some time that their military has the right to take pre-emptive action to attack enemy bases overseas if there is a credible and imminent threat to the country. The previous Defense White Papers had identified North Korea as the main military threat to Japan. The latest one however has categorically painted China as being the major potential threat to the country’s security.


Even Washington seems to have been taken aback by some of the positions that the right wing government in Tokyo is intending to adopt. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal said that the Obama administration was alarmed by Abe’s ambitious nuclear policy. Japan is preparing to start a massive nuclear fuel processing plant that would be capable of producing nine tonnes of weapons-usable plutonium annually, enough to build as many as 2000 bombs. The Obama administration had objected to the plan saying that it could encourage a nuclear arms race in the region and beyond. US officials fear that Taiwan and South Korea may also follow suit. South Korea has an advanced nuclear program and was only prevented by American pressure into abandoning its program to produce a nuclear weapon.




In 2011, Japan lifted its ban on arms exports to facilitate big Japanese companies to take part in multinational weapons projects. During the visit of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh to Japan in May, it was reported that the Japanese are on the verge of clinching a deal with India to sell 15 US-2 amphibious military planes to India. If the India government goes ahead with the deal, it will be the first time since the Second World War that Japan will be involved in the sale of military hardware. Japan has been wooing India for many years in its efforts to build an anti-China military alliance. Abe was instrumental in promoting the “quadrilateral axis” comprising of the US, Japan, Australia and India during his first stint in office in 2006-07. Last December, Abe branded the “quadrilateral” as the “Democratic Asian Security Diamond” emphasizing on the need of the four countries to “maintain freedom of navigation” in the Indian Ocean. During the Indian prime minster’s recent visit, Abe said that it was up to “India from the West and Japan from the East” to maintain peace in the region. He pointedly excluded China from his calculus.


Abe like many in the Japanese political firmament continues to be in a denial mode about the atrocities committed by the Imperial army during the Second World War.  He has been a visitor to the notorious Yasukuni shrine where the ashes of many Japanese “war criminals” are kept though he has not done so since his re-election as prime minister. After taking over, he did send ritual offerings bearing the insignia of the prime minister. However, his deputy, the even more hawkish Taro Aso and other senior ministers, have recently visited the shrine honoring the Japanese war dead.


The repeated annual visits by senior Japanese politicians to the shrine have irked the governments in countries which were under brutal Japanese military occupation like China and the two Koreas. The South Korean foreign minister, Yun Byung-se cancelled an official visit in April this year in protest against the frequent homage the ruling establishment has been paying to Japan’s war heroes. The South Korean foreign ministry in a statement expressed “deep concern and regret” over the visits to a shrine “that glorifies Japan’s wars of aggression”. Beijing has let it be known that the frequent visits to Yasukuni will be “an obstacle” in the improvement of bilateral relations.




Many Japanese voters have obviously been swayed by the heated nationalistic rhetoric Abe has been using though interestingly around 50 per cent of the electorate did not bother to cast their ballots. The turnout was one of the lowest in post war Japanese history. “I am back” and “so is Japan” Abe theatrically proclaimed to reporters in Washington earlier in the year during his first visit to the US after taking over the top job for the second time.


The Japanese electorate was disappointed by the performance of the previous government led by the Democratic Party (DP). The failure of the DP, to revive the economy or fulfill its campaign promises, has led to its eclipse. The DP’s first prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, had to leave office after he unsuccessfully tried to evict the Americans from their military base in Yokohama. Hatoyama had also advocated closer ties with China. Relocating the American base was one of the election pledges of the DP. Japan is still described as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” off the coast of China for the Americans. There are fifty thousand American troops permanently based in Japan.


It was on the DP’s watch that the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the worst accident since Chernobyl, happened. In the elections to the upper house held in July, the DP suffered an ignominious defeat. Many Japanese instead chose to support the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), viewing it as the only party which has opposed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on ideology and national objectives. The JCP won a seat from the Tokyo district for the first time in twelve years. It won seats in the Osaka and Kyoto prefectures also.


The LDP has been ruling Japan since the 1950’s. For that matter, the DP which had substituted the LDP as the ruling party in 2009 consisted mainly of leaders from the LDP. In the latest election to the upper house, the DP won only 15 seats. This was the Party’s worst performance since its creation in 1998. The Liberal Democratic Party, which critics say is neither liberal nor democratic, seems to be destined for another long stint in opposition Japanese politics. Japanese prime ministers on the other hand have in recent times had very short stints in office. Some have lasted only a few months in office. The LDP continues to be a faction ridden Party. If “Abenomics” fails to deliver, the cycle could once again be repeated.