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U.S. backs bolstered military role

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

The United States on Saturday backed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to reshape the role played by Japan’s military, delivering its strongest comments of support so far.

In Singapore on Friday, Abe told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue that Japan would become a more active player in maintaining regional security as he sets about altering the Self-Defense Forces’ rules of engagement.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel told the forum the U.S. supports Abe’s effort to “reorient its collective self-defense posture toward actively helping build a peaceful and resilient regional order.”

To complement Japan’s efforts, the United States and Japan “have begun revising our defense guidelines for the first time in nearly two decades,” Hagel told delegates at the annual conference.

“This will ensure that our alliance evolves to reflect the shifting security environment, and the growing capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces,” Hagel said.

Hagel also slammed what he termed China’s unilateral and provocative acts around the Senkaku Islands and in the South China Sea. The uninhabited chain is administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

“We made clear last November that the U.S. military would not abide by China’s unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, including over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands,” Hagel said. “As President (Barack) Obama clearly stated in Japan last month (in April), the Senkaku Islands fall under our mutual defense treaty with Japan.”

Nationalist leader Abe opened the forum by saying that Japan, caught up in territorial disputes with both China and South Korea, would take a more proactive stance in promoting peace in Asia. Laying out a vision of Japan as a counterweight to the growing might of China, Abe offered help to regional partners “to ensure security of the seas and skies.”

“Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world something more certain,” Abe said.

Abe also pledged to support Vietnam and the Philippines in their territorial disputes with China, reiterating that the use of force and intimidation to change the status quo cannot be justified.

The speech, the first by a Japanese prime minister at the forum, came amid a recent spike in regional tensions as China and Vietnam continue to clash over Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea, and Tokyo and Beijing raise the aerial ante in their dispute over the Senkakus in the East China Sea. Abe expressed hope that a code of conduct will be put in place in the South China Sea soon, and said Japan is studying the possibility of providing patrol ships to Vietnam.

Tokyo and Beijing remain at odds over the sovereignty of the Senkakus. Last weekend, Chinese fighter jets tried to intimidate SDF surveillance planes in the area by making very close approaches to them in an area where China’s air defense identification zone overlaps with Japanese air space.

To avoid contingencies in the sea and skies, Abe urged China to keep a promise it made in 2007 to set up a communications mechanism and pursue dialogue.

Abe is trying to bolster Japan’s defense capabilities as part of his plan to broadly remodel the nation’s security apparatus to better address China starting to throw its weight around and North Korea’s missile and nuclear development programs. At the same time, he is strengthening bilateral ties not just with Japan’s top security ally, the U.S., but also with Southeast Asian countries and Australia to counterbalance the rise of China.

Japan invaded much of Asia during World War II, including China and Southeast Asia, and its troops committed atrocities against soldiers and civilians alike. After losing the war in 1945, however, its forces were stripped of the right to wage war by the Allied Powers, which drafted and imposed a new Constitution that nullified the emperor’s divine status.

The SDF, formed after the Occupation, have a purely defensive mandate and haven’t fired a single shot in battle. Abe said in his speech that “close consultations” were underway in Japan to reshape its pacifist posture.

Chinese state media responded by saying Abe had “played with international law to advance his thinly veiled nationalist goals” in the address.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Right. Cos Japan and the US telling China publicly what to do was what was missing. That’ll work.

    • How_delightful

      Doin nuthin will work less.

      capiche?

  • William Forbes

    Our stating that we’re re-aligning forces is the absolute wrong thing to say. We should just do it and say nothing; for all practical purposes we alter force structures to suit needs and rarely if ever state a reason; for that’s for them to ponder. Our initial problem stems from our position right after Japan surrendered in WWII. We should have occupied Kika Jima(next to Iwo Jima) instead of deploying forces and building bases in Japanese territory. We originally occupied this island long before Japan, simply for a supply depot for whaling vessels and later for fueling of commercial and naval vessels. This island was the actual and historical “No man’s land”, for nobody wanted it. Japan never had or claimed any rights to it and it would have been a logical and cost wise move to simply make it an American Territory. It has a natural deep water harbor, high terrain for observations and large enough to accommodate a fair sized force and population. In this instance, Gen. Mac Arthur’s ego got the best of us strategically and we pay for it today.

    • Walter_Peterson

      According to Google Maps, Kika Jima is closer to Okinawa, than to Iwo Jima.

      • William Forbes

        not denying the geography, but the fact is still the same. The simple fact, we once owned it, gave it up for no good purpose and made a terrible choice to boot.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Japan is shooting itself in the foot by alienating China.

    Most Japanese citizens do not want the Constitution reinterpreted to allow for the type of increased defense role being advocated by the US Secretary of Defense. that seems like an out of bounds remark that attempts to influence domestic Japanese politics for the sake of US geopolitical machinations.

    • Roppi

      @ zero_zero – you make little to no sense..as usual

      How can Japan NOT alienate China?? You think by saying sorry again – well that’s worked a treat since 1945..

      And how do you think Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, and all other countries who share the South Chins Sea might not alienate the Chinese? Kowtow?

      And as for ‘US geopolitical machinations’ is there anything else you might want to elaborate on here?? Remember the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and fire bombed Tokyo….but still the Japanese are at fault on all subjects Chinese – still they are the perpetrators – give me a break!

  • IllumiNUTTY

    The CCP’s provocative actions are largely driven by the domestic political climate in China. In addition to a general demand for a more assertive stance in regional and international arena, the Chinese public has a deep historical resentment for Japan due to imperialist aggression in previous eras. A sincere Japanese acknowledgement of atrocities committed against China in WWII would go a long way to diffusing the tension. Nevertheless, it is essential for US to reassure our allies that we remain committed to satisfying their security needs.

    • Roppi

      Seriously – do you think that if Japan in 2014…” Japanese (sincerely) acknowledgement of atrocities committed against China in WWII would go a long way to diffusing the tension.”
      Have you ever considered that the CCP would prefer not – and that this 70 year old ‘issue’ is playing out primarily for Chinese domestic purposes??
      The Japanese have apologised countless times – this is leverage that the Chinese continue exert in a country that is quickly returning into the haves and the have nots – not dissimilar to 1949…and we know happened then.
      China needs a universal foe – a reason for the brained washed population to hate Japan- reminds me of the German population and the Jews in the years leading up to 1939…

      • Jiro

        I agree regarding China. For PRC it is mostly a domestic purpose and kind of assures PRC stability as it vents internal discontent outwards. But with South Korea it is different. Although South Korea had the same rationale as PRC starting from the 50 and 60s it is not obviously the same today as it has a more matured democracy. I believe progress could be made regarding history, at least between S.Korea and Japan (maybe also Taiwan and Singapore), with bold mutual efforts (e.g. cowritten historical texts regarding the colonial era and ww2 era as well as a renewed official apology (but this time the last) for wrongdoings including the comfortwomen). It is not a guaranteed success but it might work and that is probably as good as it gets. Japan should work bilaterally on these issues.

      • Roppi

        I agree with your China stance – however, regarding Korea – they’re a country still at war with their own people…they’re a people who have for many many years done it very tough economically and psychologically – building a dysfunctional society – the classic chip on both shoulders..
        Never have I seen or met people so naturally aggressive and so insecure and it is within this context that they still after 70 years can’t get over the early part of the 20th century when Japan dominated a weaker – less advanced country.
        I’m not defending for a second Japan’s treatment of Korea -and for that matter many other Asian countries during that period – but let’s face it they were a rabble in those days – feudal in many respects. Koreans were humiliated and it seems not too much has changed in 70 years – but we live in hope. Re SIN, MAL, Thai, Australia, and the US all seem to have overcome the tragedies of history..we live in hope that one day the people of Korea and Japan will celebrate friendship..

        China – well – so long as it’s a one party police state – there’s more chance of North Koreans sending christmas hampers to South Koreans than there is with the Chinese people ever ‘getting over Japan’

  • Jiro

    I certainly agree that Japan needs the modernize its military capabilities and shed some legal restraints. In this modern age there’s no distinction between offensive and defensive capabilities -you need both for a credible deterrence, as well as sound industrial base and a credible Alliance worth its name. Japan faces though several difficulties; 1. the general public seems not to be aware that the current legal restraints and capabilties actually raises the risk for conflict, and, 2 Japan needs to have sovereign offensive capabilties -not merely a US force multiplier or a filler of capability gaps. My guess is that Abe wont be succesful, at least in the short term with 1 and 2. That is regrettable but the only realistic outcome, that is, a fast tracked legal bending of the consitution (with some unnecessary legal restraints left) and then, in effect, a SDF that essentially is a US force multiplier. This serves US better (diplomatically) short term but worse (strategically) long term. In short -it wont impress PRC (and Russia) at all and PRC expansion policies will probably continue in the same fashion as before.