East China Sea edging towards war…

Japan scrambled  fighter jets on Dec. 13 after a Chinese maritime aircraft entered airspace over the disputed islands known as the Senkaku to the Japanese and the Diaoyu to China. The Japanese defense ministry said the incident was the first violation of Japanese airspace by a Chinese official aircraft since 1958. “It is extremely deplorable,” said Osamua Fujimura, Japan’s chief government spokesman. Kyodo News quoted Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura that the plane belonging to the Chinese Oceanic Administration was spotted near the Uotsuri Island at 11:06 AM local time, and Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force responded by dispatching F-15 jets. The response was of course prosted by Beijing. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei  said: “Flying a marine surveillance airplane in airspace above the Diaoyu Islands is completely normal. China urges Japan to stop illegal actions in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu Islands. The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of China’s inherent territory. The Chinese side calls on Japan to halt all entries into water and airspace around the islands.” (Japan TodayFT,  BBC News, Dec. 13)

Ominously, the incident took place on the same day that official ceremonies were held in Nanjing marking the 75th anniversary of the mass killing  and rape committed there by Japanese troops—the “Rape of Nanking.” The ceremony at the Nanjing Massacre Museum, attended by 9,000,  began with air raid sirens, singing the national anthem, and soldiers in dress uniform carried large wreaths across a stage. In a sign of hope, there were some Japanese voices present as well. A contingent of Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monks chanted sutras for world peace. Kai Satoru, the son of a Japanese soldier who served in China, told reporters: “I am here to admit the crimes. They [Japanese soldiers] competed to kill  people.” China says 300,000, mostly civilians, were killed in the six weeks after the Japanese military entered the then capital on Dec. 13, 1937. Japanese historians, of course, dispute the number. (AFP, Dec. 13) (The conflict over the islands started to heat up in September, near the anniversary of the 1931 Japanese occupation of Manchuria.)

More ominously still, nationalism and militarism have become potent themes in Japanese parliamentary elections coming up this month, with Shinzo Abe’s rihgt-opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), itself challenged from the right by Shintaro Ishihara, now openly caling for amending the “peace constitution.” (Reuters, Dec. 2) And Abe isn’t above playing the China card in his bid to maintain nuclear power in Japan after the Fukushima disaster: “Assume that places like China continue with nuclear power, and only Japan stops. Then at that point if there’s an accident would Japan really be all right?” (SBS World News, Dec. 11)

  1. Japanese neo-militarists: give war a chance
    NPR on Dec. 14 quotes Satoru Mizushima, leader of the pro-remilitarization group Ganbare Nippon!—or Go For It, Japan!—which apparently organized the landing on the disputed islands that helped spark the current crisis (on Aug. 15, anniversary of Japan’s 1945 surrender):

    “Japanese people are too peace-oriented,” Mizushima says. “I want China to take more actions, like invading the Senkaku Islands and organizing demonstrations in China and burning Japanese factories. So I want to thank China for doing it.”


    Even some on the right worry about growing nationalism. Kunio Suzuki, an adviser with Issuikai, a far-right political group that honors Japan’s imperial family and traditional culture, was against Mizushima’s trip to the island.

    “That’s dangerous,” Suzuki says. “I think the whole society is shifting to the right. The more right-wing people have a louder voice.”

    Woah. A look at Issuikai’s website shows that their kicker is the word “Reconquista.” According to the group’s Wikipedia page (only in, um, German) this is a reference to the notion that “the country must regain honor and sovereignty after the US occupation.” 

    Of course, the “peace constitution” was imposed under US occupation… And these guys are the moderates

  2. Abe: transform Self-Defense Forces into “army”
    From a commentary in Japan Times, Dec. 16:

    Shinzo Abe, president of the LDP and the man most likely to be the next prime minister of Japan, has made his stance clear on the status and role of the military. On the satellite TV channel BS11’s popular “Mirai Vision (Future Vision)” program on Sept. 3, 2011, he gave three reasons why Japan must amend the explicitly war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution:

    First, because it was handed down by U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers during the 1945-52 postwar Occupation.

    Second, because it is more than 60 years old and hence “is not appropriate” for the 21st century.

    Third, because Japanese people should change it by their own hand, turning it into “our Constitution.”

    During the long interview, Abe — who was prime minister for nearly a year in 2006-07 — stressed that “the guarantee of security is the life of the people. A military force is needed to defend the country.” He would refashion the Jieitai (JSDF) — that were formed in 1954 and comprise the Ground, Maritime and Air SDFs) — into a Kokubogun (National Military).

    The key character when the latter is written in kanji, rather than the Roman alphabet, is “gun” — which means “military,” “army” or “forces.” It has a distinctly prewar ring to it.

  3. Another near-skirmish in East China Sea

    Japan's newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Jan. 8 summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest the presence of four Chinese surveillance ships in waters near the Senkaku Islands. (IBT, AP, Jan. 8) A day earlier, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force again scrambled F-15 fighter jets after a Chinese aircraft approached the disputed islands (Zee News, Jan. 7) 

  4. Japan: euthanasia for useless eaters?
    From The Guardian, Jan. 22:

    Japan’s new government is barely a month old, and already one of its most senior members has insulted tens of millions of voters by suggesting that the elderly are an unnecessary drain on the country’s finances.

    Taro Aso, the finance minister, said on Monday that the elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care.

    “Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,” he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. “The problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.”

    Aso’s comments are likely to cause offence in Japan, where almost a quarter of the 128 million population is aged over 60. The proportion is forecast to rise to 40% over the next 50 years.

    Are we the only ones who think this is particularly ominous in light of the current revisionism over (and nostalgia for) the fascist period? Just asking.

  5. East China Sea back to the brink…
    Chinese and Japanese ships are facing off around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands again—days after nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine. The Japanese Coast Guard said April 23 that eight Chinese maritime surveillance vessels had entered waters near the contested islands—the largest number to do so at any one time since tensions surrounding the territorial dispute escalated last year. China’s State Oceanic Administration said the ships were sent to monitor the movements of Japanese vessels in the area. This is seemingly a response to a new move byJapanese nationalist group Ganbare Nippon to charter a flotilla of fishing boats to take dozens of activists to the contested islands. The flotilla left Ishigaki Island in Okinawa for the Senkakus the day before. The Japanese foreign ministry responded by summoning the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo to lodge a strong protest about the ships’ presence near the uninhabited islands.

    A day earlier, Beijing made its own protest to Tokyo about a visit over the weekend by three Japanese cabinet ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese killed while fighting for their country, including convicted war criminals. But China’s protest failed to deter 168 Japanese members of parliament from visiting the shrine on April 23 to pay their respects to the war dead—the most to do so in recent years. (Japan Times, April 24; CNN, April 23)

  6. Taro Aso won’t remove foot from own mouth
    From AP, Aug. 1:

    Japan’s Aso refuses to resign over Nazi comment
    TOKYO  — Japan’s Finance Minister Taro Aso refused Friday to resign or apologize over remarks suggesting Japan should follow the Nazi example of how to change the country’s constitution stealthily and without public debate.

    Following protests by neighboring countries and human rights activists, he “retracted” the comments on Thursday but refused to go further.

    “I have no intention to step down” as Cabinet minister of [sic] lawmaker, Aso, who is also the deputy prime minister, told reporters. The government also said it is not seeking Aso’s resignation, which some opposition members have demanded…

    According to a transcript of the speech published by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Aso decried the lack of support for revising Japan’s pacifist constitution among older Japanese, saying the Liberal Democrats had held quiet, extensive discussions about its proposals.

    “I don’t want to see this done in the midst of an uproar,” Aso said, according to the transcript. Since revisions of the constitution may raise protests, “doing it quietly, just as in one day the Weimar constitution changed to the Nazi constitution, without anyone realizing it, why don’t we learn from that sort of tactic?”

    How perfectly charming.