Japan-US security alliance the basis of peace in the Pacific

Shinzo Abe says Japan, stung by its war experience, is determined to pursue the path of peace, and this means pushing reforms at home and cementing a Pacific alliance led by the US

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 4:49pm

At the close of the second world war in the Pacific, we Japanese, with feelings of deep remorse, embarked on the path of rebuilding and renewing our country. Our predecessors' actions brought great suffering to Asia's peoples, and we must never avert our eyes from that. I uphold the views expressed by Japan's previous prime ministers in this regard.

Given this recognition and remorse, we Japanese have believed for decades that we must do all we can to contribute to Asia's development. We must spare no effort in working for the region's peace and prosperity.

I am proud of the path we have taken, but we did not walk that path alone. Seventy years ago, Japan had been reduced to ashes, and each and every month, citizens of the United States sent and brought gifts like milk for our children, warm sweaters and even goats. Yes, 2,036 American goats came to Japan in the years right after the war. Former enemies had become close friends.

And it was Japan that benefited earliest from the post-war international system that the US fostered by opening up its own market and calling for a liberal world economy. From the 1980s onwards, we have seen the rise of the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and, before long, China - all taking the path of economic development enabled by the open world order created by the US.

Japan, to be sure, did not stand idly by; it poured in capital and technologies to support these countries' growth. Both the US and Japan fostered prosperity - the seedbed for peace - in the region. Today, the US and Japan recognise that they must continue to take the lead in fostering a rules-based international economic order - fair, dynamic and sustainable - within which all countries can flourish, free from the arbitrary intentions of any national government.

In the world's great growth centre, the Pacific market, we cannot overlook sweatshops or environmental burdens. Nor can we simply allow free riders to weaken intellectual property. Instead, we must spread and nurture our shared values: the rule of law, democracy and freedom.

That is exactly what the Trans-Pacific Partnership is all about. The partnership's strategic value extends far beyond the economic benefits it promises. It is also about turning an area that accounts for 40 per cent of the world economy and one-third of global trade into a region of lasting peace and prosperity for our children and theirs.

I know how difficult this path has been. Twenty years ago, I myself opposed opening Japan's agricultural market. I even joined farmers' representatives in a rally in front of Japan's Diet.

But Japan's agriculture sector has declined over the past two decades. Our farmers' average age has increased by 10 years, to over 66. If our agriculture sector is to survive, we must follow through on sweeping reforms, including to our agricultural cooperatives, which have not changed in 60 years.

Change is coming to Japanese business, too. Corporate governance in Japan is now fully in line with global standards because we made it stronger. And I am spearheading regulatory overhauls in such sectors as medicine and energy as well.

Moreover, I am determined to do whatever it takes to reverse the decline in Japan's labour force. We are changing some of our old habits; in particular, we are empowering women to become more actively engaged in all walks of life.

In short, Japan is in the midst of a far-reaching transition to a more open future. We are determined to press ahead with the structural reforms needed to succeed.

But reform requires the continuation of the peace and security that is the bequest of US leadership. My grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, chose the path of democracy and alliance with the US when he was prime minister in the 1950s. Together with the US and other like-minded democracies, we won the cold war. I intend to stick to that path; indeed, there is no alternative.

Our two countries need to make every effort to strengthen our ties. This is why I support America's strategic "rebalancing" to enhance peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan will support this effort first, last and throughout.

Japan is doing so by deepening its strategic relations with Australia and India, and we are enhancing our cooperation with the Asean countries and the Republic of Korea. Adding these partners to the central pillar of the US-Japan alliance will strengthen stability throughout the region. And now Japan will provide up to US$2.8 billion to help improve US bases on Guam.

Regarding Asia's ongoing maritime disputes, let me underscore my government's three principles. First, states must stake their territorial claims on the basis of international law. Second, they must not use force or coercion to press their claims. And, third, they must settle all disputes by peaceful means. We must make the vast seas stretching from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean a zone of peace and freedom, where all adhere to the rule of law. For this reason, too, it is our responsibility to fortify the US-Japan alliance.

That is why we are working hard to enhance the legislative foundations of our security. This should make cooperation between the US military and Japan's Self- Defence Forces even stronger, and the alliance still more solid, providing credible deterrence in the service of peace in the region. Once these legal changes - the most sweeping in our post-war history - are in place by this summer, Japan will be better able to provide a seamless response for all levels of crisis.

The new Defence Cooperation Guidelines between the US and Japan will serve the same purpose, and help secure peace in the region for years to come.

Finally, Japan is ever more willing to bear its global responsibilities. In the early 1990s, Japan's Self-Defence Forces removed mines in the Persian Gulf. For 10 years in the Indian Ocean, we supported US operations to stop the flow of terrorists and arms. In Cambodia, the Golan Heights, Iraq, Haiti and South Sudan, members of our Self-Defence Forces have provided humanitarian support and participated in peace-keeping operations.

Some 50,000 servicemen and women have participated in those activities thus far.

Japan's agenda is simple and straightforward: reform at home and proactive contributions to global peace based on the principle of international cooperation. It is an agenda that promises to lead Japan - and Asia - into a more stable and prosperous future.

Shinzo Abe is prime minister of Japan. Copyright: Project Syndicate