Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are negotiating with their coalition partner, Komeito, to introduce legislation recognising a limited exercise of collective self-defence. There is rising anxiety about how this endeavour is perceived by Japan’s neighbours and what effect this will have on regional stability, given the Abe cabinet’s right-wing revisionist views of Japan’s history.
At face value, the exercise of collective self-defence (the use of force to come to the aid of an ally under attack) and historical revisionism may appear to be unrelated issues. But for Japan they are linked insofar as any Japanese government actions or statements that are perceived by its neighbours as whitewashing or denying the country’s wartime transgressions cast doubt on the government’s ultimate intentions about the character of Japan’s defence policy. This is particularly so when those changes will expand the roles and functions of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF). In this context, the historical revisionism of the Abe cabinet risks exacerbating the security dilemma in East Asia.
For countries such as the United States and Australia — which are eager to bolster their defence cooperation with Japan and encourage the SDF to increase its security burden-sharing roles — the situation raises a number of questions. How can the Abe cabinet be persuaded to dissociate itself from the historical revisionism that fuels regional distrust? And how can it be encouraged to engage in more active diplomacy to reassure China and South Korea that legitimate and limited upgrades of Japan’s defence policy will not encroach upon their security?
Mainstream public opinion in Japan recognises that the country’s wartime military did inflict grave wrongdoings and supports the apologies for wartime conduct. But, under the Abe government, right-wing revisionists continue to be significant because of the sympathy for their views among the cabinet.
Almost half of the current Abe cabinet are members of the Association of Diet Members for Worshipping at Yasukuni Shrine Together, while another three have during their time as ministers made visits to the contentious shrine where the souls of 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined. Abe himself controversially visited Yasukuni on 26 December 2013, provoking criticism not only from China and South Korea, but also from the US which noted it was ‘disappointed’ by the move which will ‘exacerbate tensions’ with Japan’s neighbours.
More than three quarters of Abe’s cabinet are also members of Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference): a grassroots organisation aimed at restoring a ‘beautiful Japan’ with a new constitution for a new era. Behind the flowery language, their view of history contends that Japanese war crimes, such as the Nanjing massacre, were exaggerated or fabricated. It also argues that Japan was liberating East Asia from Western colonialism and denies that the Japanese wartime military forcibly recruited ‘comfort women’. Their vision of a ‘correct’ Japan appears to see collective self-defence as a stepping stone to abolishing the Article 9 ‘peace clause’ of Japan’s Constitution.
The dominant revisionist views of the Abe cabinet have come to the fore recently with the kerfuffle surrounding Japanese demands to revise references to ‘comfort women’ in an American history textbook, and in Abe’s comments that Class-A war criminals are not criminals under Japanese law and that academics have yet to agree on the definition of ‘aggression’.
Read the whole article at East Asia Forum.
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