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20.09.2013 г.

Some Foreign Policy Priorities Facing Abe's Second Cabinet

Dmitry Streltsov

The year 2013 has seen a turn in Tokyo politics toward an intensifying military buildup. Even during his election campaign in 2012, S. Abe proposed the idea of ​​creating "defensive forces" - to mark an end to the evolution of the country's "self-defense" forces to a full-fledged army. Furthermore, the new government immediately began to take steps geared to strengthen the country's defense potential. For the first time in eleven years, the military budget was increased, and for the first time in eight years - the strength of its "Self-Dense Forces." Additional funds will be directed to protect the country's marine and air borders, especially in the south-west, where Japan borders with China.

The new elements that manifested themselves in the Abe Cabinet's politics on military security suggest a qualitative shift from the previous administration of the DPJ. First, the head of the cabinet has clearly moved away from the policy of "appeasement" and toward rather harsh rhetoric. Thus, in response to news on June 23, 2013, of eight Chinese ships appearing near the Senkaku, Abe explicitly stated that Japan would be ready to use force should the Chinese land on the island.

Second, Abe has not only made progress in restoring trust with the U.S., which had been weakened during the DPJ rule, but he has actually obtained manifestations of solidarity from Washington on the issue of the Senkaku. During his meeting with the Japanese leader on February 22, 2013, Barack Obama said that China was increasing tension around the Senkaku Islands.[1][2] Many observers also noted that during the summit the U.S. president used the Japanese name for the islands (Senkaku) rather than the Chinese (Dyaoyuydao).

The Japan Self-Defense Forces have begun to cooperate with the U.S. allies with regard to combat missions related to the defense of the "distant islands." Thus, joint exercises involving ground, naval and air self-defense forces were conducted in California in June 2013 - a rare occasion when such exercises involved all Japan forces. It is noteworthy that China called on the parties to suspend maneuvers during the Sino-American summit held at that very time in California, but the call went unheeded.

Third, a shift has appeared in the strategy of Japan's military policy towards China from a rather narrow focus on a potential military conflict around the Senkaku Islands. Instead of treating the Senkaku problem as an issue of bilateral relations with China, Tokyo chose to link the situation in the East China Sea with the situation in the South China Sea, and therefore to closely coordinate its defense policy with countries concerned about the growth of Beijing's military ambitions. Thus, Abe has put forward an idea of ​​"diamond security" - an association of Japan with Australia, India, and the U.S. State of Hawaii in order to guarantee the security of sea-lanes in the region. In November 2012, while still an opposition leader, Abe invited Britain and France to take an active part in strengthening Asian security and proposed that Japan should join the group of five countries, including the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.3

The Abe cabinet has clearly outlined the course to revise Japan's Constitution as one of the priorities of its policies related to security. Tokyo regards Constitutional reform as a kind of milestone that would put an end to the post-war period of Japanese history when the country was a "junior partner" to the United States. In fact, the Cabinet has come forth with an initiative to facilitate the procedure for amending the Constitution, which, if realized, is expected to abrogate the notorious Article Nine, or change its wording to a less categorical. As a result, a debate has flared up in the country whether the current Constitution permits to exercise the right to collective self-defense and to have what is dubbed as a "defense army."

Meanwhile, the Abe foreign policy course raises growing discontent in a number of East Asian countries, where suspicions are being voiced about Japan's revenge ambitions.

Achievement of a new detente in relations with its East Asian neighbors is a matter of honor for the Japanese prime minister, an essential part of whose personal political capital is tied to the success of the course toward political normalization of relations with them in 2006 after their marked cooling during the Koizumi era. Yet Abe was unable to achieve visible progress in two areas - the South Korean and the Chinese.

An important task facing the Abe cabinet is restoration of relations with Moscow, which deteriorated significantly under the DPJ government. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his visit to Moscow on 30 April 2013, it was the first official meeting between the leaders of Russia and Japan in the last ten years. In many respects, it may be described not only as significant, but even as a landmark in Russian-Japanese relations.

This last visit was of great significance for strengthening personal relationships between leaders of the two countries, which can help build an additional lane for inter-state relations. The two leaders agreed that it is "abnormal" when 67 years after the end of World War Two there is still no peace treaty between Russia and Japan. The two sides expressed their determination to conclude a peace treaty by overcoming discrepancies in their positions in the course of negotiations. Moreover, agreements were reached during the visit aiming at strengthening cooperation between Russia and Japan in the field of security. Russia and Japan decided to launch a completely new "2+2" format for bilateral dialogue, involving foreign ministers and defense ministers of the two --countries.


2 Japan Times. 04.03.2013

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