By Francesca Regalado
In September, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan managed to secure the passage of a bill that will allow the Self-Defense Force to fight abroad in defense of Japan’s allies. The new legislation relaxes the pacifist restrictions imposed by Japan’s post-war constitution to allow “collective self-defense,” a move that has been on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agenda since his return to power in 2012.
Earlier in June, Abe’s cabinet adopted a similar resolution on the grounds of protecting itself and its allies from the regional threats posed by North Korea and China, according to the Guardian. Japan’s allies include the United States, about whom Abe said in May, “I want to make clear that Japan will never become entangled in a war being fought by the United States,” according to the Washington Post.
While the United States expressed support, China, with whom Japan shares a historical rivalry aggravated by World War II, warned that Japan’s policy shift would “complicate regional security,” Reuters reports.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed China’s displeasure with Abe’s security policy in October. The Korea Times reports that ahead of a trilateral meeting between Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Wang said, “We hope that the Japanese side can sincerely reflect upon all its past mistakes, directly make a clean break with its unbeautiful past, and take an entirely new approach to join hands with the people of China and South Korea.”
The Abe government’s moves were not well-received domestically. The passing of the security bill incited not only protests outside parliament, but also a physical scuffle involving the LDP and opposition leaders within the Diet. According to Reuters, Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kinshi, had been forced to resign by similar protests against the U.S.-Japan bilateral defense treaty. Japan’s pacifist constitution was imposed by the U.S.-led occupation after World War II.
According to the Washington Post, Emperor Akihito, despite his diminished constitutional role, has subtly expressed his disapproval of constitutional revision by reminding the public of a “profound sense of remorse” over Japan’s wartime aggressions.
Abe echoed the Emperor’s sentiments on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, saying, “We have to continue our effort to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.”
Internationally, Japan has received pressure from its allies to reconsider the national consensus on pacifism. In a 2002 Foreign Affairs article, Eric Heginbotham and Richard J. Samuels criticized Japan for “double hedging” – relying on the United States almost entirely for military support, while providing none in return aside from financial contributions in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Like other commentators, Heginbotham and Samuels doubt that Japan, despite its growing military, would “use its armed forces in ways that harm its perceived economic security interests.”