Is Japan threatening regional peace?

During the last parliamentary session from Friday, September 18, the Upper House of Japan’s National Diet passed the controversial security bills proposed by the government. Despite the decreasing popular support and the high level of tensions that created a real drama in the latest parliamentary debates; the political elite considered the time has come for Japan to leave the pacifist past behind, and look forward toward a new military pro-active state.

The overall reactions of the national public and the international community seem to be mixed. On one side, the critics, headed by China, do not consider the “reactive” path to be suitable for Japan. According to a recent poll conducted by Asahi Shimbun, 54% of the respondents are against the security bills while 68% consider that it is “unnecessary” to pass them during this parliamentary session. Moreover, the Chinese have voiced out their frustration by pointing out how “reprehensible and unpopular” the “Abe administration’s arbitrary behavior” is. As stated by the News Agency Xinhua, “Japan’s new security bills not only broke Japan’s promise to the world after World War II, but also betrayed its own people, formerly protected by a pacifist constitution”.

Regardless of the general disapproval, the supporters, on the other side, assess the recent international security developments to be the main reasons behind the requested revisions to the national security legislation. The Prime Minister Abe Shinzo explained on Monday, September 15, that the “legislation is necessary in order to protect the people’s lives and their peaceful livelihood, and it is to prevent a war” as the “security situation surrounding our country has changed much more than we imagined”. The recent changes mentioned are, without any doubt, related to the China’s increased assertiveness that determined many Southeast Asian states to expand their military budgets or make substantial acquisitions of military equipment. Even in this context of a generalized regional rush for reinforcing the individual hard power capabilities (especially, military), renouncing to its worldwide-acknowledged country brand of heiwa kokka or nation of peace might not be the only reasonable solution in hand for Japan.

While China and South Korea are already looking towards Japan with distrust, it is only a matter of time to see the other Southeast Asia countries worried about the expectations of Japan’s functional military. At present, China made an appeal to the recent regional history by asking Japan to learn the “profound lessons from history”, as stated by Xinhua on Saturday, September 19. South Korea has also expressed its concern regarding the Japanese defense policy by calling for more transparency. “In deciding and implementing defense and security policy down the road, Japan will have do so with transparency, and in the direction of contributing to regional peace and stability; while maintaining the spirit of the pacifist constitution, ” according to the latest South Korean Prime Minister statement.

So, is it Japan jeopardizing all regional efforts to achieve peace in Southeast Asia? Beyond all doubts, Japan is responsible for elevating the level of tension. The passage of the 11 security bills has indeed caused violent confrontations between the opposition and ruling parties; and it received a warm welcome only from the US.

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