June 21, 2022
JAKARTA – In his keynote speech at the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue on June 10 in Singapore, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida laid down his defense and security plan in the region, including his intention to double the current defense spending to 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and to play a more prominent role in the global economy, as well as global defense and security, and politics.
Pros and cons immediately ensued both domestically and regionally.
It is very understandable that many of Japan’s former colonies, especially China and South Korea, would oppose Japan’s military reemergence because of the traumatic past of Japan’s imperialism. Their objections, however, will not stop Japan from building its military power given its economic might and rising tensions in the region. So, Kishida has just made the plan more transparent.
Calling his plan the “Kishida Vision for Peace”, the prime minister promised to come up with a more detailed road map soon. Inside and outside of Japan, Kishida’s vision is interpreted as Kishida’s doctrine, replacing those of his predecessors.
Kishida appears to be trying to distance himself from the shadow of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who used to refrain from openly admitting his military buildup ambition because it was sensitive to other countries and lacked the support of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Kishida’s initiative is based on five pillars. The first is maintaining and strengthening the rules-based free and open international order. The second is enhancing security. The third is promoting realistic efforts to bring about a world without nuclear weapons. The fourth is strengthening the functions of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council reform. The fifth is strengthening international cooperation in new policy areas such as economic security.
The time has come for a major power like Japan to play more transparent and accountable roles in regional and global security and defense. It is no longer realistic to reduce its military to a “self-defense force” because it has consistently joined the ranks of the world’s top 10 countries with the largest military spending.
For Southeast Asia, the rising military power of Japan can create a new balance to the tense military and economic rivalries in the region.
The world is now entering a post-Cold War era, characterized by Russia’s invasion of sovereign Ukraine, the open and noisy confrontation between the United States and China, continuous threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the unification of Taiwan by China.
US President Joe Biden is drumming up multilateral cooperation to contain China, which will not be easy at all because nearly all countries depend on or have strong economic ties with China.
Article 9 of the US-drafted pacifist Constitution on the Renunciation of War states that “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. 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 recognized.”
Only the Japanese people have the right to determine whether they are supportive of Kishida’s doctrine. But the Japanese government also has the moral obligation to convince the international community, including its neighbors, that it will never repeat the devastating mistakes it committed during and before World War II.