Singapore said Japan must “do more” to assure neighbors of its intentions as it builds a stronger military, weeks after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine hurt its relations with China and South Korea.
Japan’s leaders will continue to strengthen the military given the mounting concerns over its own security, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a speech to defense officials and strategic analysts Monday.
“This shift away from Japan’s post-World War II pacifism is likely to continue even if there is a change of government,” Ng said at the IISS Fullerton Forum in Singapore. “Japan will have to do more to assure its neighbors, especially as it seeks a strong Japan with greater military capabilities.”
Tensions have been on the rise as China begins to assert its growing muscle in the region amid ongoing territorial disputes.
In November, China prompted criticism from the U.S., South Korea and Japan after it announced an air defense identification zone over part of the East China Sea covering the Senkaku Islands, a group claimed by China, Taiwan and Japan but long administered by Japan, which was forced by Tokyo to nationalize the chain in September 2012. Relations deteriorated further when Abe visited Yasukuni, the Tokyo shrine that memorializes Japan’s fallen soldiers, including convicted war criminals.
The strains have complicated U.S. President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia, already dogged by tensions with China over the South China Sea and budget cuts at home. The U.S. and China must help build mutual trust in the region, said Ng.
“China sets precedents and terms of reference which other nations perceive as new rules governing international norms,” Ng said. The U.S. must regain economic vitality to “play its crucial role as a stabilizing force for the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
Abe is pushing to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution that was imposed on it by the United States after the war. Abe said that the move is necessary to allow the Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of allies and participate in international peacekeeping missions.
The strategy is also a political necessity for any Japanese leader, Ng said.
“A Japan that is perceived to be weak would be an electoral disaster for any incumbent and an ineffective deterrent,” he said.