Japan Enters Hostile Territory
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
All media channels are currently focused on one thing: the attacks in Afghanistan. From thousands of media sources comes the same news. Whether it's the BBC World News Service, CNN, TVE in Spain, NHK Radio in Japan, France 2 or the South China Morning Post the same sound-bites are recorded and the same images provided. That is why I listened all the more intently as President Bush sat calmly in front of the camera thanking US allies for their contribution to this war effort. I was waiting to hear Japan's name. After all the Koizumi administration has worked avidly over the past 3 weeks trying to push through anti-terrorism legislation that will allow Japan to contribute militarily to the "War on Terrorism." An effort which in part was motivated by a desire to prevent the diplomatic blunder it made during the Gulf War of 1991, when Japan did not send military personnel, from repeating. However, Japan's name was not mentioned in this first speech, perhaps in the second.
Judging from newspaper reports around the world, many have been surprised, one way or the other, about how rapidly the Japanese government has maneuvered to introduce its anti-terrorism bill. Howard W. French of the New York Times described Japan as having gone further in the debate over the role of its armed forces in the last three weeks than in the previous three decades. North Korea accused Japan of "aggressive militarization" while the Financial Times commented on how swiftly Japanese public opinion has changed in favor of military action citing a Nikkei Shimbun survey that claimed 70 per cent of Japanese supported SDF involvement in US led attacks.
A curious reaction came from the Singapore Straits Times ridiculing the 113 character title of Japan's proposed bill, which read "The Law Regarding Special Measures Concerning Measures Taken by Japan in Support of the Activities of the Foreign Countries Aiming to Achieve the Purposes of the Charter of the United Nations in Response to the Terrorist Attacks Which Took Place on 11 September 2001 in the United States of America and Subsequent Threats as well as Humanitarian Measures Based on the Relevant Resolutions of the United Nations or Requests Made by the United Nations and Other International Bodies." I suppose their poking fun may be justified.
Despite such lighthearted commentary Japan is entering hostile territory. It has embarked on an extremely delicate path that requires sensitive diplomacy, in particular with neighboring countries that fear Japanese military encroachment. Although most Japanese feel confident that supporting US action with SDF troops is the right thing to do, insecurity remains as to whether it will have the intended consequences. These not only include the desire to be recognized as a real contributor, but the desire to build a safe environment. Right now people do not feel secure. The Financial Times article entitled, "Japanese respond reluctantly to US call to arms," quoted a Tokyo coffee shop clerk who said, "its scary, we already have guards controlling our building as a result of the attacks. I don't want us to be a target of terrorist attacks too." LDP old-timer Hiromi Nonaka expressed, "I want a Japan that can't be drawn into a broader war. Right now we don't have a mechanism to put on the brakes" (Howard W. French, NYT Oct. 4). China, North Korea and South Korea also feel apprehensive about Japan's vigorous approach towards activating and deploying armed SDF personnel overseas. Lets hope that Prime Minister Koizumi is more convincing than the title of the anti-terrorism bill when he travels to China this week and later to South Korea to reassure his neighbors. If not, the consequences of such measures could produce the opposite outcome, namely more insecurity.
- "Koizumi denies Japan's dispatch of troops to shake Asia's stability," AFP, October 2, 2001
- Molly Broaddus, "China needs reassurance if SDF deploys," The Japan Times, October 1, 2001
- Alexandra Harney and Michiyo Nakamoto, "Japanese respond reluctantly to US call to arms," Financial Times, October 1, 2001
- Howard W. French, "Sentiment is Rising in Japan for a More Muscular Military," The New York Times, October 4, 2001
- Ken Hijino and Andrew Ward, "Tokyo makes effort to repair regional relations," Financial Times, October 4, 2001
- "Mouthful of a name for Japan anti-terror Bill," Singapore Straits Times, October 7, 2001