[Outlook]Changes in Japan will affect Korea

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[Outlook]Changes in Japan will affect Korea

Years ago, a research institute asked me to write about Japan’s military for yearbooks on military affairs in the Northeast Asian region. I took the job, thinking there would be a lot of work to do in the first year but that from the second year on, all I would need to do would be to change some statistics. But I had to rewrite the entire section every year. That proves that Japan’s military is in a period of drastic change.
Japan’s Self-Defense Forces went to the deserts of the Middle East. The duties of the forces go beyond self-defense these days. Japan’s defense policy, which was revised last year, states that improving the international security environment, as well as the defense of Japan, are major duties of the Self-Defense Forces.
This allows the country to exert its military power outside of Japan. The only thing left for Japan to do is to fire its weapons.
An incident that occurred on Jan. 9 symbolizes this transformation. Japan’s Defense Agency was fully upgraded to a ministry. For the first time since the end of World War II more than 60 years ago, Japan now has a Ministry of Defense like any other country.
In 1954, the Self-Defense Agency was created under the supervision of the Cabinet Office. Judging that Japan had waged a war of aggression because of its powerful military, Japan and the United States adopted a pacifist constitution.
The Self-Defense Agency remained an agency, not an independent ministry in the cabinet, because of Article 9. Turning the agency into a ministry is a prelude to revising the constitution.
Japan’s neighboring countries, including Korea, still remember Japan’s atrocities of the past and have become accustomed to Japan being a pacifist country. Since World War II, Japan has provided three assurances to make its neighbors believe that it would not return to the militarism of its past. They are the principle of self-defense, the pacifist constitution that denies any possibility of war and the Japan-U.S. alliance that serves as a safety device against militarism.
However, the principle of self-defense has been broken and the constitution is likely to be revised.
The only thing left relatively intact is the U.S.-Japan alliance. But the alliance is changing too. The alliance’s main duty has been to provide defense from communist forces in the region, but it has been reorganized to respond to terror attacks and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since a lot of changes are taking place in its military, Japan should work hard to relieve any anxiety its neighbors feel about them.
Had it not been for North Korea, it would have taken two or three decades for these changes to take place in Japan. When North Korea’s Taepodong missile flew over its mainland, the Japanese view of national security changed drastically.
It is pitiful that we only worry about changes in Japan’s military when North Korea conducts a nuclear test. The Japanese are worried not only about North Korea’s nuclear armament. They worry that if reunited, Korea would side with China and take a strong anti-Japanese policy.
We have a critical role in turning the changes in Japan in a more healthy direction. If we talk about matters of history or territory only, the Japanese will feel increasingly suspicious and insecure. We need to send a message of peace and cooperation. We need to show that we are determined to make North Korea abandon its nuclear development program and present a vision of a unified Korea that will pursue and secure peace with our neighbors, including Japan.
We should pursue a free trade agreement with Tokyo in a bid to build cooperative ties. As China is emerging as a strong power, the advent of a healthy Japan is necessary to keep balance in the region. Korea’s national interest can be best guaranteed when we have close and balanced ties with Japan and with China on the basis of firm relations with the United States.
We are unbelievably insensitive to changes in Japan. We are focused on China’s rise. We are elated that Samsung Electronics has outpaced Sony. Other than Japanese leaders’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and the dispute over the Dokdo islets, or Takeshima in Japan, Koreans are not interested in Japan. Japan’s economy is still twice as large as China’s. While China’s economy is imitating existing technology, Japan has been inventing the world’s best. Thanks to Junichiro Koizumi’s reforms, Japan’s economy escaped from its lost decade and has started running again. We need to read the changes in Japan in order to prepare for a better future.

*The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yun Deok-min
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