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Monday, Dec. 5, 2005

Koizumi's success hinges on transparency

LOS ANGELES -- The Japanese are trying to sell their Asian neighbors a plan to rearm militarily -- and become more like a "normal" nation and less like a thoroughly defeated World War II aggressor. In their view, this shouldn't make anyone nervous.

It's not going to be an easy sell.

In fact, just about the only nation already sold on the idea is the United States, which under the Bush administration has been urging Tokyo to counter China's military rise. But regional respect for Washington's foreign policy judgment is not at an all-time high. What's more, the irony is lost on no one: It was the U.S. that after World War II imposed on Japan its peace Constitution with its famous Article 9. This restricted Japan's military options to only having so-called self-defense forces stationed within Japanese territorial waters.

Few others take as sanguine a view as the U.S. Asian memories don't easily fade, and who can forget the last century of Japanese aggression? What's more, the Japanese movement to rearm and widen its military scope comes during the administration of a prime minister who refuses to stop visiting war shrines that remind everyone in the region of Japan's bad-old days. This is public diplomacy at its worst. It is probably fair to say that, even today, more Asians fear Japanese aggression then Chinese aggression.

In truth, Japan is now a much different place than the Japan of old that terrorized entire nations. It is increasingly global, modern and international. Its economic contributions, in aid and investment, have been essential to the region's phenomenal growth. It is not going to invade anyone -- China as well as the U.S. would see to that.

Even so, widespread fear remains, as the best-traveled Japanese diplomats well appreciate. One of them is Tomohiko Taniguchi, the current deputy press secretary in the country's Foreign Ministry. While on leave recently as a Japanese fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington, the diplomat worked up an incisive exposition of Japanese thinking about a new constitution and defense buildup.

This important paper, titled "Whither Japan? New Constitution and Defense Buildup," lays out the history of Article 9, the gradual evolution of Japan's Self-Defense Forces in the 1990s, its new defense thinking in the first years of the 21st century, Japanese concerns about the rise of China, Tokyo's possible role as an Asian equivalent to Britain, and various (all scary) military scenarios with regard to possible mainland action against Taiwan.

The paper's most significant contribution is its stout call for greater Japanese transparency in military matters. Inevitable as the military changes and buildups are, Taniguchi says, there is no reason why they need to be clandestine. On the contrary, they should be openly deliberated in the Parliament, thoroughly covered by the news media, endlessly debated by the public and routinely discussed with the Chinese as well as with the Koreans and other very concerned parties.

Japan should become a model nation in openness. Otherwise, people will suspect the worst. As Taniguchi writes, "Japan's qualitative defense buildup is not a consequence of the nation's becoming a more rightwing or freelance power." It is the result of the natural political and global evolution of one of the world's largest economies. As the diplomat puts it, "The more information the nation discloses, the less room will there be for its neighbors to misunderstand its intentions."

He goes further: "The Japanese government must invite Chinese defense planners to Tokyo regularly so they can scrutinize Japan's defense buildups and developments. This attempted transparency should be unwavering and unilateral, with or without reciprocal action from the Chinese side, in order for Japan to achieve the moral high ground."

Japan is not looking to develop a new way of invading its neighbors. What Japan is looking to do is to carve out a role on the world stage that's commensurate with its achievements. Bumping and pushing against China is inevitable, but all-out war is not. Tokyo believes that its military buildup will deter this from happening. Let's hope so. But bad public diplomacy by Japan could raise tensions throughout the region. No one could say for sure what this might lead to.

UCLA professor Tom Plate is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. Copyright 2005 Tom Plate

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