[OUTLOOK]Dealing with a different Japan

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[OUTLOOK]Dealing with a different Japan

This week, Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party made public its first draft of a constitutional revision. This means the issue of changing the constitution is finally on Japan’s official political agenda. The Liberal Democratic Party, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, plans to finalize the draft and unveil it by November this year.
In the discussions of changing the constitution, the most pressing point of interest is whether Article 9, which renounces the country’s right to wage war, will be revised.
The Liberal Democrats’ first draft omits the clause renouncing the right to wage war and maintain military power. Also, the title of the second chapter of the constitution, “Renouncement of War,” has been changed to “Security Assurance.” A sentence has been inserted which reads that Japan will “make an effort to contribute actively and positively” to international peace and security efforts.
That addition is immediately followed by clauses concerning the Self-Defense Forces of Japan. If the present trend continues, before long Japan will have a full-fledged military force, and become capable of projecting its power overseas.
On the day after the draft revision was announced, Japan’s Defense Agency unveiled its defense white paper for 2005. The paper presumes that China and Japan will be competing for hegemony in Northeast Asia, and declares that the Defense Agency’s most important task is to maintain a military capability that can counter China’s “revolution in military affairs.”
Since the end of the World War II, Japan has been a “base country” in Northeast Asian politics. That term means a country that carries out collective security responsibilities and solves a security problem by serving as a crucial security base for its allies, rather than keeping its own military forces, according to the constitution.
Since the war, Japan has seen its pre-1945 military might dismantled. During the Korean War in the early 1950s, Japan acquired the characteristic of a base country for UN forces.
Since then, though there have been partial changes and modifications, the country, fundamentally, has continued to serve that function, throughout the Cold War and the post-Cold War period. The backbone of that role has been its constitution, which was written just after World War II and forswears military aggression.
But Japan critically deviated from its role as a base country in 2003, when it dispatched its Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. Given this circumstance, the new constitution is likely to provide new legal grounds for deviation from that longstanding role.
Japan is highly likely to have the nature of a “traditional security country,” going beyond a “militarily ordinary country.” This can be demonstrated by the language in the “New Defense Plan Outline” that the government released at the end of last year.
In that document, the government wrote, “Based on our country’s military power, protecting Japan from the daily security threats of the surrounding countries, including North Korea and China, has become our overriding task.”
In the near future, South Korea will face a new international political reality in which Japan has been transformed into a “traditional security country.” How should we cope with this change?
Simply appealing to nationalism and promoting an awareness of the danger posed by Japan will by no means be enough. Japan could get tougher, taking the opportunity to provoke nationalist emotions in South Korea, or indeed on the Korean Peninsula as a whole.
If a Japan that has been born again as a “traditional security country” were to decide to do something unexpected beyond the current system of checks and balances, the resulting situation could develop most unfavorably for South Korea.
In this sense, we need to keep in mind that the framework of multilateral consultation that is being employed in the six-party talks over North Korean nuclear disarmament could be useful not just in resolving the nuclear issue, but in addressing the Japan problem later. I wonder if we might not be focusing too exclusively on North Korea in the six-party talks.
The Liberal Democratic Party’s constitutional revision draft and the Japanese Defense Agency’s white paper were both made public while the six-party talks’ fourth round was progressing in Beijing.
The timing of these overt announcements is appalling; it is as though Japan does not care about its neighboring countries. It would be regrettable if, at this moment when we are being swayed by anti-Japanese sentiment, we failed to look closely at what is actually happening in that country.

* The writer is a professor of international studies at Kookmin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Nam Ki-jeong
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