When the framers of Japan’s postwar Constitution included the much-debated Article 9 prohibiting the nation from ever having armed forces or from ever going to war, they had a reason. They saw Japan as a nation with an incurable propensity to slip into militarism.
But recently some have begun to argue that Japan is now a “normal” nation and the ban should be lifted. Should it?
For example, we now learn that Japan’s euphemistically named Self-Defense Forces have been creating and distributing dossiers on the ideological beliefs of those who exercise their freedom of information rights to inquire into SDF affairs. Japan’s security agencies have long provided similar dossiers to firms keen to deny employment to procommunists and other leftwing elements. Prewar Japan showed similar zeal in tracking down and punishing people with “dangerous thoughts.”
Even in today’s allegedly peace-loving Japan, few seem willing even to note, let alone challenge, the way the SDF glorifies Japan’s past military exploits and assumes automatically the right to indoctrinate recruits in crude nationalistic values. Japan’s courts have endorsed the SDF right to harshly punish progressive soldiers objecting to the unconstitutional use of the military overseas.
Japan is debating laws for nationwide mobilization in the event of an attack or threatened attack by nonexistent enemies. Hardly anyone has noted a far more important and likely problem — what happens if Japan is counterattacked as a result of providing bases and otherwise participating in an aggressive war launched by the United States against one of Japan’s neighbors? Under the proposed laws, those who oppose that aggression would be forced under pain of fines and imprisonment to cooperate. Prewar Japan would have been proud to have such laws.
As well, we now have the outburst of pent-up hatred and contempt for China triggered by the recent incident when Chinese police tried to stop and eject five North Koreans seeking asylum in Japan’s consulate general in Shenyang, China. Influential conservative and rightwing magazines are running red-hot on the subject. But their arguments show about as much rationality as those used to justify Japan’s past militaristic adventures.
To prove Beijing’s perfidy, the anti-China commentators and politicians refer ad nauseum to Clause 2, Article 31, of the Vienna Convention on the inviolability of consulate premises. For Chinese guards to step even a meter into consulate grounds is a violation deserving strongest protest and a Beijing apology, they say.
One wonders whether these people even read the documents they quote. Clause 2 restricts inviolability to only that part of the premises “used exclusively for consular work.”
The same clause goes on to say specifically that the host nation, in this case China, can assume permission to enter those premises in the case of a “disaster requiring prompt protective action.” Clause 3 of the same article goes a lot further. It says the host nation “has a special duty (my emphasis) to take all appropriate steps to protect the consular premises against any intrusion.”
As for “assuming permission,” this was made obvious by the behavior of the consulate staff during and after the incident, not to mention the fact that Japan’s ambassador in Beijing had already called for all asylum seekers to be expelled from any of Japan’s diplomatic premises in China. I have yet to find any mention of the 1998 precedent of Japanese police entering the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, without permission, to chase down an intruder.
Many mistake inviolability for sovereignty, as if the Chinese were already storming the Niigata beaches. Clause 4, Article 31 of the same Vienna Convention gives the host country the right to expropriate consulate property even for such mundane purposes as road building. Not much sovereignty there.
Beijing’s alleged inhumanity in blocking the five Shenyang refugees is another frequent theme. Nowhere is there any mention of how China generously tolerates some 200,000 to 300,000 refugees from North Korea while Japan refuses to take any, and of how Japan’s chest thumping now makes it even more difficult for China to cope with those refugees.
That a nation that says it wants to play an active international role should be so ignorant of basic rules and facts of international affairs is appalling.
The incident also shows Japan’s dangerous capacity for self-pity. That Beijing was able to produce fact after undeniable fact to demolish Tokyo’s originally shoddy account of the affair is twisted to prove that deep down Beijing has a remorseless (“shitataka”) determination to humiliate weak, innocent-at-heart Japan. Prewar Japan also liked to think of itself as the hapless victim of Western, and Chinese, pressure.
This turn has added decibels to the long-standing rightwing chorus calling shrilly for a purge of the so-called China School — the diplomats and others with expertise on China and its language who are accused of kowtowing to China. In the buildup to the Pacific War we saw the same hysterical calls for the purging of Japan’s few pro-Western diplomats.
That the allegedly progressive Asahi Shimbun media stable has now joined the anti-Beijing and anti-China School clamor is especially worrying. That newspaper has in the past often apologized for its wartime role in helping to whip up Japan’s former militaristic hysteria. Now, it seems, it is back to its old habits.
It gets worse. One of Japan’s more influential rightwing commentators, Susumu Nishibe, says protecting Japan’s missions abroad should now be the first line of national defense. Others, including a Tokyo University professor of international relations given exclusive time on the normally impartial NHK, are suggesting that Japan should rely on brute force to bring Beijing to heel over future incidents like Shenyang.
Over Japan’s contrived Northern Territories dispute we also hear muffled rightwing voices hinting at eventual use of military force against Russia. Here, too, we find the same blind, nationalistic assumptions that Japan is totally in the right, and the other side totally wrong, despite an international treaty — the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan in this case — and a host of other data proving the exact opposite. Is all this really the mark of a “normal” nation?
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