Japan’s worrisome approachOminous clouds are hovering over Northeast Asia as North Korea complicates the power game in the region between the United States and China.
A clear-cut division has formed with South Korea, the U.S. and Japan on one side and China backing North Korea on the other. Japan, which is no doubt annoyed and disturbed by China’s newfound power, moved fast to capitalize on the growing tension following North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island.
It appears as though Japan is rapidly moving to strengthen its military, known as the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The country is poised to announce a major realignment of its military structure, which has mainly been confined to a defensive focus. New policy guidelines mapping out a strategy through 2015 allow for more flexibility to address a host of threats in the region amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and China’s growing influence and assertiveness. According to these guidelines, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces could be dispatched beyond the country’s waters.
Against this backdrop, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently said officials are exploring the idea of dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to the Korean Peninsula to rescue Japanese nationals if needed. Kan said Japan is discussing the idea with Seoul, as there currently are no rules or policies that cover the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces beyond Japanese waters and into Korean territory. Tokyo officially refuted the remarks this week, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku saying that there are no such plans in place and that Japan has not had discussions with Korean officials on this matter. Korean officials also brushed aside the prime minister’s comment as nonsense.
Despite a constitutional provision that bans the Self-Defense Forces from being dispatched overseas and taking up offensive duties, many Japanese politicians are calling on the country to strengthen its military capabilities. But Kan’s comments are highly controversial and disrespectful to Korea, which is still bitter over Japan’s invasion and colonization of the country in the first half of the 20th century.
The emergence of a new ideological axis is a worrisome sign for the region and the broader global community. South Korea stands to lose the most from the tensions among these powerhouse countries. It is imperative for China to rein in North Korea, while the U.S. and Japan must stop capitalizing on the situation and aggravating tensions.