Japan’s peace dilemma

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Japan’s peace dilemma

The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

At 11:30 a.m. on April 5, the Japanese government’s charter plane with 20 Ukrainian refugees onboard arrived at the Haneda Airport. The arrival was televised live. My heart warmed when a young child with a backpack waved at the camera. The refugees who were staying in Poland came to Japan with the “unusual treatment” of accompanying Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi’s return flight.

I was often surprised by the full support and assistance Japan offered to Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion. The Japanese government gave $200 million, and 90 percent of the people agree with accepting Ukrainian refugees. Usually, it is hard to find large-scale rallies in Japan, but protests denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are held every weekend. Watching the news that thousands attended the rallies, I thought, “People who know the devastation of war have a special desire for peace.”

On the other hand, I have some misgivings, as I see politicians who repeatedly justify defense strength augmentation after the Ukrainian situation. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the leading figure. In late February, he provoked controversy by saying that the Ukrainian situation enlightened him of the importance of nuclear weapons programs. “Japan needs to discuss nuclear sharing policy,” he said. Abe argued that Japan must consider the nuclear sharing system of some European countries to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on homeland for shared operation. His idea ignores the three non-nuclear principles of Japan since the 1970s — not to produce, possess or bring in nuclear weapons.

Abe made a more astonishing comment on April 3. While emphasizing the need to secure capabilities to “pre-emptively attack an enemy base” if signs of attack is detected, he said, “There is no need to limit the attack to the base. Targeting the core should be included.” The enemy base striking capability is a controversial concept many people continue to criticize for going against Japan’s “exclusively defensive security policy.” Did Abe mean attacking not just the military base but also the core? He didn’t specify, but the remark reminded me of the devastating scenes of destroying key facilities in the Ukrainian capital. Ichiro Ozawa, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said, “This is truly scary. Abe may be looking at the same future as Vladimir Putin.”

You can defend peace when you have power. However, for what purpose has Japan strengthened power even by abandoning the sacred principles it has kept for long? To those people who remember Japan as an aggressor who started the war, Japan’s attitude towards the Ukrainian crisis evokes complicated feelings.
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