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Is Japan Serious about a New Security Role?

June 5, 2014 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue (also known as the Asian Security Summit) has attracted considerable attention in both East Asia and the United States. In that speech, Abe stated that Japan “intends to play an even greater and more proactive role,” thereby “making peace in Asia and the world more certain.” Under this new security strategy, he pledged that Tokyo “is determined to spare no effort or trouble for the sake of the peace, security and prosperity of Asia and the Pacific.”

The underlying motive for the tone of the speech was not hard to discern. Japanese leaders have become increasingly upset about China’s growing assertiveness in the region. Tokyo is most concerned about its own territorial dispute with Beijing involving the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, but the worry is broader than that.

Only time will tell whether Japan is willing to back-up its new security rhetoric with meaningful substantive measures.”

The Abe government is also alarmed by the breadth of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and the rise of tensions between China and several of its neighbors, most notably Vietnam and the Philippines. Indeed, Abe praised the latter two countries for their supposed willingness to resolve the disputes through dialogue. Although he did not mention China by name, Abe denounced efforts to change the status quo through “one fait accompli after another”—an unsubtle reference to Beijing’s recent actions.

It was an impressive speech, but only time will tell whether Japan is willing to back-up its new security rhetoric with meaningful substantive measures. It also remains to be seen whether smaller East Asian nations are willing to move beyond their historical fears of Japanese aggression and view Japan as a useful strategic counterweight to a rising China. If it is serious about wanting to play a more extensive security role, Tokyo must take several steps to give substance to its new policy declaration.

Three measures are especially important. First, Abe must succeed in his campaign to modify Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which even given increasingly expansive interpretations over the past six-and-a-half decades, confines Tokyo to purely self-defense military measures. If Japan is to be taken seriously as a regional security player, it must have the flexibility to adopt more proactive steps and to enter into collective defense arrangements. But there is still tenacious domestic opposition to …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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