Shinzo Abe

Japan on thin ice in implementing its new defence laws

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 2:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 2:02am

An unprecedented outpouring of protest by the Japanese people did not deter lawmakers from ramming controversial national security legislation through parliament.

The concerns of China and South Korea were ignored; the agenda of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other nationalist politicians to make Japan a "normal" country with a fully operational defence force has been made abundantly clear.

With pacifist sentiment, democratic processes and judicial opinion having been brushed aside, a milestone has been attained that the electorate and neighbours have little choice other than to accept.

The risk of military confrontation has been increased, making it essential that the policy be exercised prudently.

There has been no more major shift in Japan's post-war defence posture. Under article nine of its pacifist constitution, the nation foreswore using military force to settle disputes.

The majority of Japanese support that stance, so amending the legislation was ruled out; Abe instead chose a reinterpretation that allows the self-defence forces to fight to protect allies, foremost the US.

The crux of the argument lay in a perceived threat from China's growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas and North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

Among Chinese and Koreans, there is a belief that despite repeated Japanese apologies for invasion, occupation and atrocities, leaders have yet to show sincere repentance.

Circumstances have the potential to put the region's two biggest economies on a collision course - something neither wants nor needs.

The manner in which the legislation has been handled, without public approval and adequate debate, raises questions about its shape and how it will be implemented.

Only abstract parameters have been laid out, with the defence forces given latitude to respond to a wide range of situations in peacetime and during emergencies.

Abe has said the government will "make a comprehensive judgment in view of the individual circumstances of each situation". What constitutes a threat to the nation or an ally is left to the discretion of the government in power.

A supplementary resolution, not binding by law, requires exercising of collective self-defence to be first approved by parliament.

Politicians have to be accountable for their decisions. Those in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner Komeito have ignored the peoples' wishes.

The new defence approach has to be embarked upon judiciously.