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Issue #1647      July 16, 2014

The war drums beat louder

In November 2011, President Barack Obama addressed the Parliament of Australia, announcing the strengthening of military ties with Australia. He described the US’s alliance with Japan as “a cornerstone of regional security.” The new US pivot toward Asia would see the US playing “a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses Parliament.

Last week, on July 8, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received an extremely warm welcome when he addressed Parliament and emphasised future co-operation between the two nations in the area of security. China was the main target in Obama’s speech and in Abe’s address and in Tony Abbott’s speech of appeasement to the ultra right-wing Japanese PM.

“Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in the region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” Obama told Parliament in 2011. America’s defence posture across the Asia Pacific “will be more broadly distributed – maintaining our strong presence in Japan and the Korean Peninsula, while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia.”

Former Labor PM Kevin Rudd, speaking in support of the US’s pivot (or rebalancing as it was later renamed) left no doubts about the target: “Without such a move, there was a danger that China, with its hard-line, realist view of international relations, would conclude that an economically exhausted United States was losing its staying power in the Pacific.”

Abe signed two agreements while in Australia – the Japanese-Australian Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) and the Defence Technology Agreement (DTA) which follows on from the 2007 Australia-Japan Security Declaration.

The DTA has raised alarm bells across Asia, reflecting the rise of Japanese militarism and its strengthening of military ties with the US and Australia. Abe has already gained Cabinet approval for a “reinterpretation” (read breech) of the Japanese pacifist Constitution to enable Japanese forces to fight overseas in support of an ally. Section 9 of the Constitution limits Japan’s forces to defending Japan from a direct attack.

Japan has also escalated tensions in the South China Seas over disputed islands with China.

No apology

The description by Abbott of Japan as Australia’s “new best friend in Asia” did not receive a warm welcome from many in Australia, China, the Philippines, Korea, Thailand and elsewhere in Asia. Nor did the announcement of closer military ties.

Japan is yet to fully acknowledge and apologise, let alone compensate its many victims in relation to its brutal treatment prisoners of war and sex slaves. They were very disappointed with last week’s address to Parliament. In fact, angry and offended by his remarks and Abbott’s speech.

Abe made a superficial and not very convincing attempt to put the past to rest. “Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan. How many young Australians, with bright futures to come, lost their lives? For those who made it through the war, how much trauma did they feel years and years later from these painful memories? I can find absolutely no words to say; I can only stay humble against the evils and horrors of history. May I most humbly speak for Japan and on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.”

Condolences are not enough and it was not just the loss of lives. The complete omission of a reference to its fascist past, the sex-slaves and the nature of the treatment of its enemy forces indicates the PM is not serious about acknowledging Japan’s past war crimes, let alone acting against its perpetrators.

The military side of Australia-Japan relations is also of concern to our neighbours, in particular China, the main target. “Today, I … state solemnly that now Japan and Australia will finally use our relationship of trust, which has stood up through the trials of history, in our cooperation in the area of security,” Abe said.

“Australia and Japan have now freed ourselves from one old layer and are now moving towards a new special relationship.” The “old layer” is the Second World War and the atrocities committed by the Japanese military.

“Today, Prime Minister Abbott and I will sign an agreement concerning the transfer of defence equipment and technology that will make the first cut in engraving the special relationship in our future history.”

The “first cut” which would give Australia access to submarine and other technology, is a step towards a full military alliance and incorporation into the US’s war plans.

“There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations. Japan is now working to change its legal basis for security so that we can act jointly with other countries in as many ways as possible,” Abe said referring to the “reinterpretation” of Japan’s Constitution.

As if Abe’s speech was not bad enough, Abbott inflamed the situation even more as he went overboard trying to prove how reliable and trustworthy an ally he was.

Abbott described “our special relationship” as being “built on shared interests and common values: democracy, human rights, the rule of law, more open markets and freer trade.” The rule of law claim rang hollow in the light of Japan’s continued whaling and lies about it being for scientific research. Abbott can hardly talk about rule of law when it comes to the illegal treatment of asylum seekers or democracy when he keeps Parliament and the Australian people in the dark over the brutal treatment and refoulement (forced return to source of danger) of asylum seekers.

Abbott heaped praise on the Japanese in World War II referring to their courage and “patriotism of a very high order”. “We admired the skill and the sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did. Perhaps we grasped, even then, that with a change of heart the fiercest of opponents could be the best of friends.”

Concerns were expressed in South Korea, Philippines, China, Thailand and around the region, including in Australia. The Returned and Services League (RSL) was outraged over the PM’s insensitive and offensive references to Japanese skills and sense of honour.

“Torture, starvation, murder and forced labour are not honourable,” RSL president Don Rowe said.

The Chinese Xinhua news agency accused Abbott of going too far in his comments on Japan’s war record. Xu Haijing said Abbott “probably wasn’t aware that the Japanese troops possessed other ‘skills’, skills to loot, to rape, to torture and to kill.”

He also noted that Abbott did not give an explanation why Japanese leaders, including Abe, keep visiting Yasakuni Shrine where war criminals are enshrined.

The Australia-Japan defence agreement is another of those provocative and dangerous policies which threatens peace in the South Pacific and Asian regions.

Next article – WA “Block Supply in July” rally

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