Japan’s military research investment heats up tensions in Northeast Asia

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/20 11:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Japanese academia is once again standing at the crossroads of history.

According to a report published by the Asahi Shimbun earlier this month, a total of 128 scientists from Japanese universities and research institutes received 880 million yen ($7.8 million) from the US military from 2008 to 2016 and they provided a spectrum of scientific payoffs for Washington. Meanwhile, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) submitted an interim report on whether to accept research subsidies from the Ministry of Defense, displaying a rather prudent attitude toward military research.

For a long time, universities, scientific research institutes and academic associations of Japan have declined to engage in military technology-related endeavors to avoid participating in research and development of lethal weapons. However, the two incidents that happened almost simultaneously in early February demonstrate that Japanese academia has diverged on military research.

During the War of Japanese Aggression against China (1937-45), Japanese scientists once took part in the research and development of chemical and biological weapons. That's why the SCJ has long insisted on drawing a clear line of demarcation on military research. For instance, the council, founded in 1949, issued two statements in 1950 and 1967 respectively, vowing "never to engage in scientific research to be used in war" and "never to engage in military research." Though it has been more than seven decades since the end of WWII, the calm in the country's largest and most powerful group of scientists showcases that Japanese academia has been reflecting on the war atrocities and shunning away from being involved in the ravages of warfare once again.

As the Constitution of Japan enacted in 1947 emphatically protects academic freedom, the government has not pushed scientists to study specific programs. Nonetheless, since Shinzo Abe was re-elected as prime minister in 2012, the Japanese government has been gradually exerting its political influence on the academic circle, hence, affecting its academic freedom.

National universities across Japan are top-notch in comprehensive strength among all higher education institutions including public and private universities. They have the most outstanding talents from home and abroad and are leading the innovation in advanced science and sophisticated technology. But in recent years, they have suffered from budget cuts from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. A lack of funding has not only negatively impacted the life and work of the teaching faculties at these universities but also impeded them in conducting scientific experiments.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Defense has been offering an increasing amount of research grants, up by dozens of times within no more than three years. Therefore, the Abe administration is actually forcing Japanese scientists, in particular those from national universities, to join defense-research-related programs. In fact, it is obvious that Japanese scientists are mired in a dilemma: Though they conduct military research, they feel somewhat virtuous by giving their achievements to the US military.

Given the prudence of the Japanese academic circle in research for military purposes, the defense ministry has been promoting scientific research programs in the name of dual-use technology, which is the development of technology both for civilian and military purposes. Nevertheless, just as rocket research and missile research appear similar in concept with each other, the research results of Japanese scientists will probably be applied to military use in the future. In addition, Abe's cabinet relaxed its arms export in April 2014. It is projected that the increasingly rightist Japanese government and its soaring investment in military research will inevitably send the tensions in Northeast Asia spiraling.

The SCJ has just put forward an interim report after a discussion which lasted half a year and the final report will be released in April, which, however, is expected to be nominal only as not to wield any practical restraint on research staff. But, it is hoped that Japanese scientists will not have the same regret as Albert Einstein who repented of having indirectly claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an instant by working out the famous equation E=mc², which laid the theoretical foundation for nuclear power development.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology at Toyo University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter at @GTopinion

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