Aki Okuda, founding member of the student protest group SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy), leads a rally in front of the National Diet. | REUTERSDespite widespread public opposition, the upper house of Japan’s parliament gave final approval to expand the overseas role of the JSDF (Japanese Self-Defense Forces), which for years has provided the material and logistical assistance sought by allied forces. The new law enables the JSDF to exercise ‘collective self-defense,’ or the use of military force to defend another state from an armed attack, marking an additional expansion of Japan’s postwar defense policy. Restraints placed on militarism by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws ‘the use of force’ as a means of settling international disputes, have challenged the legality of the decision to authorize collective self-defense. Under the existing Constitution, the use of force is restricted to ‘individual self-defense,’ or retaliation against foreign forces engaged in an armed attack on the state.
Any proposal to amend the Constitution would need to be submitted through the appropriate legislative channels. Article 96 of the Japanese Constitution stipulates a two-thirds approval of both houses of the Diet followed by a national referendum for ratification. The Abe administration has instead ‘reinterpreted’ the Constitution to meet its own objectives, discrediting over ten-thousand scholars and academics who deem the security law unconstitutional.
Stenographic notes taken during the meeting of the Special Committee of the House of Councillors on September 17, 2015. Diet deliberations were not recorded. It states “unable to hear what was said.” | Akira Koike, member of the House of Councillors for the Japanese Communist Party, via TwitterCircumstances leading to the enactment of the 2015 National Security Legislation bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the 2014 State Secrecy Law, which effectively criminalizes the revelation of state secrets even if the information disclosed has not been declared as such. The failure to record deliberations taking place in the National Diet underscores the government’s flagrant disregard for the democratic process, wherein the absence of official documentation reinforces a politics of secrecy, denial and disinformation. With lawmakers not leveling with citizens about the changes to national policy, a number of state narratives had been popularized, one of which contends that failing to enact the security bills would compromise the nation’s ability to respond to external threats. This position can be ascribed to the argument that U.S.-Japan joint capabilities around the Japanese archipelago are insufficient to meet those of a ‘rising’ China. Though a ‘fluctuating’ security environment marked by an ‘aggressive’ Chinese naval force is often invoked as the raison d’etre for expanding the scope of JSDF operations, it would appear that Japan’s military and technological capabilities emerge vastly superior to those of China, even in the absence of a U.S. military presence in the region. Presumably, it would be most expedient for the Japanese government to exacerbate the China threat so as to validate its bid for regional hegemony and its aim to justify military adventurism.
Protestors in Tokyo raise anti-nuclear placards at a rally denouncing nuclear power plants. | AFPThe misplaced focus on an external threat distracts from the internal hazards unfolding at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Sendai and Rokkasho, among fifty-four aging nuclear reactors resting on or near active fault lines and volcanoes. The Fukushima disaster continues unabated as it leaks hundreds of tons of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean each day, leaking onto land and into the water table. As matters pertaining to ‘nuclear’ are classified as state secrets, citizens are denied vital information to protect themselves from the effects of low-level radiation. There is good reason to argue that ever since President Dwight Eisenhower launched the ‘Atoms for Peace’ campaign, initiating the pursuit of a plutonium economy, Japan had long been transformed into a country that could not afford to incite international conflicts. Measures to safeguard against theft and sabotage are virtually nonexistent at Rokkasho, a nuclear facility that reprocesses expended fuel to separate out weapons-grade plutonium and uranium, and stores the remaining highly radioactive waste. Government officials, however, have expressed little interest in cooperating with nuclear experts to improve the facility’s security standards. Dismissive attitudes toward hedging against risk can be observed within the highest echelons of Japanese bureaucracy. Following the unpopular cabinet decision to steamroll the security legislation through the lower house in July, the NRA (Nuclear Regulation Authority) conceded that it had not developed countermeasures against direct ballistic missile attacks on nuclear power plants, or conducted risk assessments concerning the release of radionuclides. Advocating for engagement in ‘proactive peace,’ purportedly to protect citizens, while refusing to prepare viable evacuation plans for the targeting of nuclear facilities, can be viewed as another instance of hypocrisy motivated by political opportunism.
Animated video released by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party | The People's Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and FriendsInherent to the ongoing global financial and economic crises are violent and hostile attitudes toward immigrants and ethnic minorities accompanied by a rise in xenophobic and racist tendencies. Hate speech motivated by vitriolic populism is often rooted in the gross inadequacies and inequities of the current socioeconomic structure. The most vulnerable segment of Japanese society would seem to find attraction in the political rhetoric of the extreme right, which attributes culpability to Chinese and Korean citizens residing in Japan and abroad for the nation’s malaise. By directing animosity toward a common enemy, political leaders are able to unify the public’s frame of mind. Jingoistic attitudes, underpinned by tenets of Nihonjinron, serve to reinforce ethnocentrism and linguicism, amplifying the potency of state propaganda. In this manner, nationalism becomes instrumental in diverting attention away from the real exploitation of the working and middle classes under Abenomics.
Yasukazu Hamada, chairman of the Special Committee on Legislation for the Peace and Security of Japan and the International Community, surrounded by opposition lawmakers shouting and waving placards in protest of the security legislation that passed through a House of Representatives panel. | ASSOCIATED PRESSThe three arrows of Abenomics, the ultimate confidence game, have missed their targets to reverse deflation, boost immediate spending and restore long-term growth. Its failure has led to the rise of Abenomics 2.0, a rehashed growth strategy hinging on similar neoliberal policies. Unlike its predecessor, Abenomics 2.0 offers ‘hope,’ ‘dreams,’ and ‘peace of mind’ to concerned Japanese citizens, requiring the “involvement of all 100 million people.” This slogan eerily parallels the wartime rhetoric of Imperial Japan calling for ‘100 million’ civilians to be ready to die rather than accept defeat. Social programs such as economic conscription, a loan-based ‘internship’ program for university students seeking to enlist in the JSDF, and My Number, a new social security and tax identity system, have emerged quietly as harbingers of Japan’s gradual transformation into a surveillance state, following America’s lead in becoming a full-fledged poverty-superpower. Despite its purported status as a nation-state that embraces liberal democracy, Japan would appear to be treading the dangerous road toward fascism.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, tours the USS Ronald Reagan in Sagami Bay off Kanagawa Prefecture. | POOL/KYODOEconomic achievement and geopolitical dominance as the primary objectives has left the people of Japan limited resources with which to confront difficult times. The government’s underhanded means to achieve its ends in the context of expanding capitalism and rousing nationalism may have decisively diminished the sense of security in individuals. Risks incurred by the ruling coalition, through a reckless approach to managing economic and ecological crises, are shifted entirely onto citizens, as minimum wages, increased rates of consumption tax and irregular employment are normalized.
The spectacles of Shinzo Abe’s unilateralisms detract from larger considerations of Japan’s ossified political system. Lawmakers have yet to confront the fundamental issues of fragmented opposition and decentralized leadership endemic to postwar party politics. In spite of structural changes between regimes of government, it is quite apparent that the situation of Japanese politics has not changed significantly over the decades.
Tadatomo Yoshida of the Social Democratic Party, Kazuo Shii of the Japanese Communist Party, Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa of the People’s Life Party join a protest in front of the National Diet. | OLIVENEWSThus far, no political party other than the incumbent LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) has proven itself capable of exercising long-term leadership. While Japan’s electoral system offers a platform for a diverse range of political parties through proportional representation, it ironically splits opposition votes, thereby prolonging LDP dominance. Malapportionment under the single-seat constituency system creates a disparity in the value of votes between electoral districts that vary greatly in population, leaving little incentive for the LDP to deviate from its gerontocratic policies favoring the elderly and the farmers who dominate the rural conservative landscape. Systematic underrepresentation of urban voters has frustrated the younger generation, many of whom feel disenfranchised and therefore disincentivized from participating in electoral politics. Though the Supreme Court has declared the electoral system unconstitutional, it has not ruled election results invalid. Uncertainties about the integrity of the existing system, one which enables elected representatives to make potentially life-altering decisions on a national level, have yet to be acknowledged.
With the upcoming 2016 upper house elections in mind, it may be wise for political leaders to revisit a number of fundamental questions. What kind of political culture is sought for those who respect constitutionalism and seek democratic accountability? How can opposition parties form a robust alliance focusing on important policies that can garner electoral support? Stemming the decline of Japan’s civil society and constitutional democracy will undoubtedly be a crucial test for the livelihood and vitality of its residents.
This essay makes no attempt to provide an exhaustive consideration of state and non-state actors, or other economic, social and political factors involved in framing contemporary issues in the Asia-Pacific.
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