AS the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet ushered in a new post-war era of military recasting on Tuesday, the 60th anniversary of Japan establishing its Self- Defense Force, some analysts noted that the move could possibly change the global perception of Japan in a permanent way. Through press coverage and editorials in the foreign media, it appears that the world seems perplexed by Abe’s recent moves, and, in particular, scholars, pundits and the everyman alike, seem to have arrived at three major questions.
Firstly, as with the State Secrets Act and the formulation of the National Security Council (NSC), both legislative enigmas which have also polarized the nation, questions are being asked as to why Abe was in such a frenetic hurry for his Cabinet to green light a reinterpretation of the Constitution to give Japan’s forces the right to exercise collective self-defense? Due to the size and nature of the overhaul of Japan’s security policy, especially the historic departure from its adherence to the constitutionally binding post-war pacifist ways, many have asked why more time was not given for parliamentary debate.
Even the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s junior New Komeito coalition ally diffidently signed off on Abe’s push for change, having candidly called on Abe and the ruling party to discuss and debate the nitty-gritty of the security shift in more detail. Secondly, with the majority of Japanese citizens staunchly opposed to any shift away from the nation’s decades-held pacifist stance and against reinterpreting Article 9 of the constitution — a prominent clause that whilst renouncing war, also prohibits Japan from maintaining a military — why Abe refused to seek more understanding from the public initially and then look to legally amend the constitution by way of a public referendum and subsequent votes in both houses of parliament, has also invited global query.
Japan trumpets the virtues of democracy and Abe himself has said overhauling the country’s security policy will better serve and protect the lives and liberty of the Japanese people, but the people were given no choice on the matter, and had scant information until the Cabinet’s decision was autocratically made. It has struck many international political commentators as more than odd that a nation’s democratically elected leader would force a military change of such magnitude upon a population so clearly averse to the idea.
The third issue that seems to have universally confounded the international community, pertains to what exactly Abe thinks Japan can gain from allowing itself the right to exercise collective self-defense. A lot has been made of a so-called shift in the security environment in the Asia Pacific region, a fact that remains debatable. Of more substance is Abe’s recognition of geopolitical tensions in the region, but deciding against the public’s will and in a wholly unconstitutional manner, can only be viewed as a bellicose move.
“The global perception of Japan won’t change overnight, but what we’re reading in the papers and seeing on TV is a little unsettling, especially as it seems that Japan’s prime minister has not respected or even listened to the will of his people,” Simon Naylor, an East Asian Studies research fellow at the University of Leeds, U.K., told Xinhua by phone. “I think Abe opting not to hold a national referendum is a little suspicious, especially as we’re hearing that politics in Japan under Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party has taken a large step to the right. It might be that he, ultimately, wants to rally more national pride and have people feel less guilty about history, but such methods are a little twisted,” Naylor said.
“On the one hand he’s promoting a really dovish ideology, but at the same time, he is, wittingly or not, honoring the souls of war criminals. It’s his actions that are guiding perception, not his personal intentions, which may or may not be principled,” said Naylor. Others suggested that the speed at which Abe achieved his security overhaul and the opposition to the move by the public were, strategically, inextricably linked. “As it stands all the public can do is to bemoan the situation until the next general election, as it is doubtful that the Cabinet will reverse its decision retroactively. In this respect, Japan’s prime minister has acted in a grey area between plain hard- nosed politics and an abuse of power as the nation’s leader,” an official from the South Korea Embassy to Japan told Xinhua, requesting anonymity.
“(South) Koreans feel that Japan could do more to achieve healthy ties with its neighbors, but meddling with the Kono Statement and glossing over historical acts of wartime barbarity, coupled with visits by Abe and senior lawmakers to Yasukuni ( shrine), and now the military change, have done little to endear Japan to its neighbours. If there’s been a global change in how Japan is perceived, the onus of responsibility here lies squarely with Japan and Abe in particular,” he said.
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