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Abe-san walks a tightrope

2014-08-13 10:56:18       source:New Straits Times

By B.A Hamzah

August 11,2014

THE globetrotting (he visited 47 nations in 18 months) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approval rating has dropped to 48 per cent since his election in December 2012. The slip follows the decision to revise Article 9 of the 1947 Peace Constitution in July and the new sales tax.

The slide in popularity has not undermined his political leadership. This is because the national election will not be due until 2016, the opposition is in disarray and his coalition controls both houses of Parliament.

Nonetheless, Abe walks a tightrope especially with his defence policies.

Japan has a well-equipped standing military (also known as Self-Defence Forces) of 225,000 personnel, including by most conventional standards, a formidable Navy (Maritime SDF) 
According to Robert Kaplan, a noted authority on world navies, the Japanese Navy has four times as many warships in the Royal British Navy (Asia Wall Street Journal, Dec 23, 2012).
This year, Japan spent US$49 billion (RM157 billion) on defence, the fifth largest spender in the world. This budget increase of three per cent over the previous year is the highest in 22 years.
The premise for the military build-up is geopolitical uncertainties: a rising China and America that is more likely to be preoccupied with transatlantic security issues following recent developments in the Crimea and the Ukraine. 
Under Abe, Japan seems to be reacting to some geopolitical uncertainties in the region, like a novice, by reinventing itself in a traditional fashion, when it should continue to rely on its proven geobusiness model. 
With an eye for geography, the answer to a more assertive China is not to splash on military hardware but to invest more on non-traditional (i.e. diplomatic, cultural and economic) assets. 
As the third largest world economy, (some say still second), Japan has achieved what no other nation has, including victors of WW2, the United Kingdom or France.
Japan was able to become a strong economic power, not because (as asserted by some) the US has undertaken to rewrite its security but, primarily because it has clever, hardworking and innovative people.
In short, unlike the US, Japan (like Germany) has become an influential global power without the normal military trappings.
A rare achievement in a capitalist system.
Tokyo may gamble its political future by renouncing the Peace Constitution. 
Ending a ban on troops fighting overseas and resuming export of military hardware signals a new approach in Japan's foreign policy orientations.
Tokyo may lose the respect of the international community if it proceeds with its grandiose military programme. 
It is certain to complicate relations with the immediate neighbours. 
China, South Korea and Russia, with whom Tokyo has territorial disputes, are not likely to welcome a rearmed Japan as one among equals. 
The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu who wrote the treatise, The Art of War, and would have been proud of modern day Japanese leaders for embracing his strategic thoughts that promote peace without war, may now be troubled by Abe's militaristic bend.
The geobusiness model Japan adopted since 1947 has been the envy of many. By staying clear of political entanglements, Japan was able to focus on rebuilding its nation, rising from the ruins of war to what it is today. 
A re-armed Japan is set to change its character and value. 
With the benefit of hindsight, the world will be a much safer place without a hegemon with a shady past.
The last time Japan nursed hegemonic ambitions, it unleashed a brutal Imperial Army.
History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.
What its Imperial Army failed to accomplish by brute force, Japan has succeeded with its commerce policy; it has proven to the world that it does not need a super military force to become the world’s third (second) largest economy.

Their "soldiers" in business suits are welcome on every continent, although they are tough trade negotiators (evident in the current Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations with the US) and a nation that rarely transfers freely their technology to host countries. 
The nagging question remains: why is Abe so determined to 

swap a proven geobusiness model for tanks, missiles and drones that he knows did not make Japan victorious in WW2?
Why gamble their future once more by swapping Honda, Toshiba, Hitachi, Suzuki, Nissan, for example, with tanks, submarines and missiles when the present strategy has worked so well? 

Why fix something that ain't broken?

Abe should say no to America, for the sake of peace.