Asia, world should remain vigilant on the remilitarization of Japan
Published: Dec 22, 2023 08:18 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

The Japanese government approved a record-high 7.9 trillion yen ($56 billion) defense budget for fiscal 2024 on Friday, as the nation continues to invest in longer-range strike capabilities under a five-year plan to fundamentally revamp its defense posture, according to Japanese media outlet the Mainichi Shimbun.

This is not constructive for Japan, as it is in violation of the country's pacifist constitution. Also, it is afraid that this will increase tensions in East Asia, rather than alleviate the situation. For Japan, to become a force agitating for more military buildup is very bad for this region and the world at large, because many countries were victimized by Japan when it followed this imperialist philosophy of using military power to invade other countries. The typical case is bombing Pearl Harbor and launching a war with the US.

I think we need to make it very clear to the Japanese government that it cannot have a free hand in increasing its military budget to develop its military capabilities to such an extent. And Japan needs to be fully aware that the consequences of a continued military buildup constitute a threat to its neighboring countries, especially China.

Japan's defense budget is very much prodded on by the US. Some decision-makers in Washington are really urging Tokyo into more military spending and military involvement, even trying to push Japan's military outside of the Japanese territory into other parts of the world.

The fact is that Japan was completely defeated in 1945 and forced to unconditionally surrender because of the fierce opposition from countries like China and the US. I hope Japan will never think about forfeiting the pacifist constitution, rearming itself to become another threat to East Asian countries and a force for sabotaging peace and security and development in this part of the world. 

At the same time, we have also noticed that Japan has shown an unusual desire for security cooperation with ASEAN. At the summit commemorating 50 years of bilateral relations, Tokyo and the 10-member bloc agreed to deepen security ties in areas such as capacity building, defense equipment and technology, as well as joint training and exercises, according to a statement issued on Sunday.

Traditionally, Japan has had robust, dynamic, extensive relations with ASEAN as a whole, and the ASEAN member states think this is purely normal and should be accepted, even welcomed. I think Japan's desire to promote its economic ties and cultural and people-to-people exchanges with other countries, especially with ASEAN members, is normal. However, if Japan wants to add this military dimension to the normal economic and trading relations with ASEAN members, especially if such military ties have an angle against some other country in this part of the world, this will be very dangerous.

ASEAN members need to be aware of the history and should never forget about the atrocities committed by the imperialists of Japan in World War II. Japan left behind deeply rooted records of atrocities against mankind in this part of the world. I don't think anyone will serve him or herself well by forgetting about all these atrocities that Japan committed against innocent people in so many countries.

Therefore, we need to look very closely at what is happening between Japan and ASEAN as a whole and ASEAN members. For normal business relations, Japan should be welcomed. But for dangerous military aspects, they need a high level of vigilance, because no one would welcome the remilitarization of Japan. Japan should remain a pacifist country, rather than a nation constituting a threat to other countries. 

I hope Japan will be wise and knowledgeable enough to refuse to be hijacked onto the bandwagon of a major power and to become cannon fodder for another war. We all need to promote peace rather than agitate for war in East Asia and the world at large. War should not be an option for East Asian countries. Japan should not spend beyond control in arming itself or rearming itself, because the rearmament of Japan will be considered a direct threat to the peace and stability of many countries in the world, not only for China. I believe ASEAN, as a framework and regional organization for peace, stability and development, has enough wisdom, knowledge, audacity and vision to make sure ASEAN remains a peacemaker.

The author is a chair professor at Soochow University and Vice President of the Center for China and Globalization. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn