Shinzo Abe’s positioning Japan in the New Security Era


11 Jul 2022 10:11am
n this file photo taken on October 21, 2017 Japan's Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe waves to his supporters while leaving his last stumping tour for the October 22 general election in Tokyo. (Photo by Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP)
n this file photo taken on October 21, 2017 Japan's Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe waves to his supporters while leaving his last stumping tour for the October 22 general election in Tokyo. (Photo by Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP)

There must be a lot of explanation when Harry Harris, a retired US Navy four-star admiral describes the late Shinzo Abe as an instrumental architect in fostering new alliance in the Indo-Pacific.

In his exact words, he mentions “Abe was a transformational leader for Japan and for the alliance. He’ll be missed by both sides of the Indo-Pacific.”

In the history of post-war Japan, other Prime Ministers were focusing on economic development and acing Japan as Asia’s tiger. In doing so, while establishing Japan as an ally to the US, much of Japanese military behaves passively to the security environment surrounding the country.

Simultaneously, Japan’s raises comfortably as tech-nation, empowering robotic innovations, and other high base technologies. Much of these developments, are motivated by the virtue of Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution.

Ever since its enactment in 1947, Article 9 prohibits Japanese military deployment abroad unless it is for the purpose of national defence.

In the words of Article 9, the constitution is “aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.

The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised.” (Art 9, Chapter II of the Constitution of Japan)

Given the context of rising dynamics of regional security surrounding Japan, Shinzo Abe understood the inadequacy of Article 9, in surviving Japan’s interest.

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Abe, tried to increase Japan’s defence spending and led both legal and governance-based initiatives to assert Japan’s military beyond its borders.

The National Security Strategy was crafted in 2013, giving birth to Japan’s first national security council. Twoyears later in 2015, Japanese parliament passed legislation to allow the use of force in certain circumstances for self-defence.

These were not well-received both at home and in the global arena. It was stated, 80 per cent of the Japanese people were arguably against the change.

Criticism towards Abe’s move is much alluded to the concern that Japan will return to its Japanese militarism.

At home, Japanese citizens could not detach from the disasters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki post World War 2. Active Japanese militarism could potentially posit Japan as a pacifist power on the warpath.

Therefore, the move towards amending Article 9 signals Japan’s intention to be both offensive and defensive power in the region. Both Japanese and the international community are reminded with the similar policies of Imperial Japan.

As a result of Japan’s dark history reminiscence, Abe received backlashes from its people, although his administration justifies the need to be a pro-active nation in the changing nature of Asia’s regional security.

In 2013, The Office of the Prime Minister in a statement reveals, “Japan must have the power to take lead in setting the international agenda and to proactively advance its national interests, without being confined to a reactionary position to events and incidents after they have already occurred.”

Neighbouring countries senses Abe’s active militarism while aligning with the Western countries could potentially disrupt balance of power in Northeast Asia.

Abe being a nationalistic was fine but being an ultra-nationalistic triggers sensitivity to both Koreas and China, especially on the issue of comfort woman.

Abe states in in 2006 that there was no evidence Japanese soldiers had captured South Korean women during the World War, contrary to the findings of 1993 Kono statements.

This certainly caused uproars to South Korea although the matter allegedly has been resolved by both Park Geun-Hye and Shinzo Abe’s administrations in 2015.

Nevertheless, his countless visits Yasukuni Shrines caused unpleasant reactions from countries who have been suffered previously during Japanese imperialism among the Western bloc on the contrary, Abe contributes to restoring peace, balancing China’s assertiveness.

For Abe, China’s assertiveness poses imminent threat to his Japan’s revival. He felt that Japan would be unable to prosper should China raises as Asia’s hegemon.

Due to Japan’s constraint of Article 9, Abe could not resist from utilising the US as a regional balancer. However, US alone would create hard resistance from China as two superpower’s antagonism will further deteriorate peace in the region.

Therefore, Abe begins by revamping the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between India, Australia, the US and Japan, which had initiated during his first Prime Ministership in 2007.

The Dialogue purports to establish collective security for Japan in the region, by inviting other stakeholders to bandwagon against China.

However, the Dialogue, better known as the Quad, had been the utmost focus for Abe from 2012 and onwards, given the intensity of Northeast Asia regional dynamics, which is also a concern to the US.

The U.S., as its effort in undermining China launched the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) in November 2021.

The FOIP has been allegedly perceived as an exclusive club for the U.S.-Japan initiatives, excluding China as an important player in the region.

Abe, however, was being instrumental for expanding FOIP to India (who have always been on the fence when facing US China rivalry. He substantiates the need to build connections of democratic nations, upholding rules-based order in an open Indo-Pacific.

However, whether these substances are justifiable in the eyes of democratic aligned nation, its main potential role still serves as a soft balancing strategy against China. In the end, as a foreign policy reader myself, a question remains.

How are Abe-led changes affect the regional balance of power in Asia?

Dr Zokhri Idris holds a Ph.D in International Relations from Korea University. He aspires to become a prominent scholar, a strategist, and an influencer of Modern Leadership and Diplomacy in the context of International Relations. His area of interest also includes China’s geo-political behaviourism as a current global shift.

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