'Why is Japan provoking its neighbours?' pt II
Here's the rest of Kim Yong-uk's article on Japan and East Asian geopolitics as promised a few days ago. The first part is here.
The problem is that the level of military forces that are needed to guarantee this sort of security is not something that can be built up overnight. Even when it comes to holding China in check, Japan still needs the help of the United States.
However, with America’s feet tied in the Middle East, and as China develops into a major power and modernises its military, Japan’s ruling class is feeling impatient.
The rightwing politicians are coming to the fore in the context of these pressures. They are putting forward one measure after another aimed at overcoming the political restrictions imposed by Article 9 of Japan’s Peace Constitution.
But it will be no easy task for Japan to become the leading regional power let alone the leading world power.
First, despite the general rightward shift, the Japanese government still has to be conscious of hostile domestic public opinion. The “Report on security and war capability” also noted “Because of the ‘pacifism’ created by the sense of guilt that followed the Second World War, the idea of tackling a threat through the concerted efforts of the citizens is seen as a taboo.”
In the second half of 2003 when the bill for dispatching Japanese Self Defence Force troops to Iraq was being debated in the Diet, popular opinion shifted suddenly towards being anti-war and anti-troop dispatch.
At the time of the hostage incident in 2004 too Koizumi seemed to have overcome the crisis by instigating a disgusting witch hunt against the released hostages, but the Liberal Democratic Party was defeated in the local elections which followed immediately after. Of course this opposition has the weakness of being extremely fluid, but the Japanese ruling class continuously has to be cautious.
Second, there is the problem of the “anti-Japanese sentiment” of neighbouring Asian countries. Japan has invested a considerable amount of capital in Asia, particularly in China and China is also Japan’s principal export market.
As large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations continue in China the Japanese government is at a loss as to what to do. That section of Japanese capitalists who have investments in China are calling for a solution to be found. This sort of conflict can also help to stimulate public opinion in favour of restraining the militarisation of Japan.
Finally, there is no guarantee that the US will always be happy to support Japan’s moves toward becoming the hegemonic regional power and the discord this is causing in East Asia.
The question of whether the US can continue to maintain its hegemony in East Asia after the Cold War is closely connected with the question of whether South Korea and Japan will remain the two countries at the core of America’s alliance in the region.
The US does not want Japan to go too far in provoking Korea, as it is at the moment. So it is mistaken to claim that the current controversy around Tokto is part of a plot engineered by the US.
It is difficult to guess in advance in what way the power conflicts in East Asia will develop. Even if the rulers of these countries make hypocritical compromises with one another, their competitive relations will continue to exist and they will continue to stockpile weapons aimed at each other.
[South Korean President] Roh Moo-hyun’s conception of Korea as the “Northeast Asian Balancer” reflects the position of a South Korean state that has no choice but to walk a tightrope through the region’s precarious order.
In fact, his strategy might sound splendid in words, but its substance is contradictory. The Roh Moo-hyun government opposes the expansion of the US military presence in Korea because it is conscious of China, but at the same time it has no intention yet of coming out from under the US security umbrella.
So the Chinese ambassador was able to say, “Frankly, I do not understand the meaning of the statement ‘Korea is the [Northeast Asian] balancer.’” It seems that the real meaning of Roh Moo-hyun’s phrase – that Korea will have to walk a tightrope – was not apparent. He thinks that Roh will remain on America’s rope, tipping the balance this way and that.
This sort of tightrope walking might be a very flexible response, but actually the danger is that it will satisfy no one.