People have various perceptions and images of a country. It is the same with Japan. One of the common impressions of Japan is a bad one, which stems from its wartime past.
Japan invaded its Asian neighbors in the name of building a “Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” and waged the Pacific war against the U.S. in line with its imperialistic militarism. Many, including Koreans, suffered immensely during the Japanese aggression and colonial rule.
So Korea and other members of the international community have ample reasons to remain suspicious and concerned about Japan’s departure from its pacifist security policy, which reached a symbolic height Saturday with the passage of 11 security-related bills.
The bills consist of a legislative package to revise 10 existing laws, including the Self-Defense Forces Law, and a new bill to enable the Self-Defense Forces to play a greater role overseas.
Most of all, they pave the way for Japan to exercise the so-called “right of collective self-defense,” which had been prohibited under the previous interpretation of the U.S.-drafted constitution that has governed the nation’s security policy after World War II.
This means Japan’s military can now fight along with its allies even when the country isn’t under attack and participate more actively in international peacekeeping operations. Put simply, Japan, which had been a country that cannot wage war outside its territory, is now a “normal state” that can engage in a war overseas.
Abe, the man pushing the aggressive and assertive security policy, said the legislation is designed to “prevent war.” But as we know it, he is looking beyond prevention of war and we should brace for the impact the resurgence of Japan’s military power will have on the regional order in this part of the world.
The Japanese move will certainly prompt or provide excuses for acceleration of an arms buildup in the region, especially by China and North Korea. In fact, North Korea, which reportedly plans to launch a long-range rocket next month, reacted swiftly to take advantage of the passage of the security bills to justify its military buildup.
The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang said that it will strengthen its “war-deterrence” in response to Japan’s revised security bills, which it said amounted to an “ambition for reinvasion.”
Pyongyang is reacting sensitively because the passage of the security bills will allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to attack the North if its military attacks Tokyo’s ally the U.S. -- which has a sizable presence in both Japan and South Korea -- or South Korea.
This possibility calls upon Seoul to take advantage of the change in Japan’s war capability and the enhancement of its military alliance with the U.S. in deterring North Korea from making provocations against the South.
At the same time, the Seoul government should guard against the possibility of the Japanese military entering the peninsula as allied forces of the U.S. without the request or consent of South Korea.
It is essential in this regard that the three countries -- South Korea, the U.S. and Japan -- work out detailed guidelines in coping with possible military contingencies on the peninsula, especially regarding the role of the Self-Defense Forces. South Korea should start discussions with the two countries as soon as possible.