War clouds over the Pacific
On Dec. 26, 2013, the first anniversary of his second term in office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo which honors some 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including those convicted of war crimes during World War II.
The honored dead also include the wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo and general Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was convicted of war crimes involving the massacre of thousands of Filipino civilians by Japanese soldiers during the American Liberation of Manila in 1945.
Abe’s visit to the controversial site was stridently protested by top officials and citizens of China and of Korea, which were among the countries that were occupied by the Japanese Imperial Forces. But not a whimper of protest was heard from the Philippine government.
Millions of civilians in the Japanese-occupied countries, including the Philippines, were brutally killed, tortured and enslaved, and their resources looted by the Japanese forces. Thousands of women in China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and other Asian countries were raped and forced to become sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers.
The former “comfort women” have sought compensation and a formal apology from the Japanese government, but all they have received was meager compensation from a Japanese civic organization. The Japanese government recently released a study finding “no evidence to corroborate the testimony of Korean women in Japanese military brothels.”
Responding to global criticism for his visit to the shrine, Abe claimed that he merely wanted to pay homage to the war dead. His real reason soon became evident when his Cabinet approved a resolution that would allow the government to “reinterpret” the Japanese constitution to enable it to exercise the so-called right to “collective self-defense.”
Under Article 9 of its constitution, Japan is prohibited from maintaining an armed force except for “self-defense.” The “reinterpretation” will enable Japan to wage war “collectively” with other countries, effectively repealing Article 9 even without a referendum.
Thousands of Japanese citizens immediately took to the streets to protest the government move. A Japanese protester even set himself on fire, unprecedented in Japanese political experience. According to opinion surveys by Japanese newspapers, 54 percent of those polled were against the Cabinet resolution, and only 29 percent were in favor.
South Korea, which had been a colony of Japan, strongly denounced the move. China, of course, loudly protested, suspecting that the Japanese military redirection was targeted toward it because of their current dispute over the ownership of a group of islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
On the other hand, President Aquino of the Philippines welcomed the move of the Japanese government to “reinterpret” its pacifist constitution even before its formal public announcement. In his daylong trip to Tokyo last June 24, Mr. Aquino said:
“We believe that nations of goodwill can benefit only if the Japanese government is empowered to assist and is allowed to come to the aid of those in need, especially in the area of collective self-defense. We do not therefore view with alarm any proposal to revisit the Japanese constitution, if the Japanese people so desire…”
Mr. Aquino undoubtedly took this position in view of the Philippines’ own territorial and maritime disputes with China over certain islands and reefs in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. The Japanese reinterpretation of its constitution will allow it to engage in “collective self-defense” with the Philippines and Vietnam, which have ongoing territorial disputes with China.
The United States, which has a security alliance with both Japan and the Philippines, may also be involved. It has already declared its support of Japan’s claim over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands—support that has not been extended to the Philippines’ maritime claims. However, President Barack Obama has said that the US pledge to come to the aid of the Philippines, if attacked, under the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty, is “ironclad.”
America has also declared a “rebalancing” or “pivot” of 60 percent of its naval forces to the Pacific, allegedly to ensure that the sea lanes shall remain open to international shipping. But China views this move as intended to “contain” its rise to become a global economic and military power. It says it does not threaten the freedom of navigation in international waters.
Because both China and the United States possess atomic weapons, there is a possibility of nuclear war, a nightmare haunting most of Japan, the only nation to experience nuclear bombing in World War II.
Japan’s economy has been stagnant for decades. The Abe Cabinet may be thinking that a massive rearmament by Japan to prepare for war outside the confines of self-defense will revive the economy. It is also an opportunity to sell warships, planes and missiles to other Asian countries that feel “threatened.” This is another dark motive for even an unintended war.
The Japanese government’s resolution to skirt the pacifist provision of its constitution brings the geopolitical situation to a higher level of tension. It has raised fears of a resurgence of Japanese ultranationalism and militarism, which only six decades ago had expanded the second war in Europe to World War II.
It will take the highest statesmanship and restraint to reverse the gathering of war clouds over the Pacific, and spreading to the rest of the world. Sadly, it seems that for the moment, such lofty statesmanship is lacking as world leaders prance to the tune of the global military industrial complex and manipulated domestic public opinion.
Manuel F. Almario ([email protected]) is a veteran journalist and spokesman of the Movement for Truth in History (Rizal’s Moth).
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