Australia-Japan and the Morrison/Suga Agenda. Do we share the values of Yoshihide Suga?

Most members of the Suga (and Abe) governments of 2012-2020 belong to rightist, cult type historical revisionist organizations committed to restoring the emperor’s role to its pre-war centrality.

The merging of Australia and Japan into a “quasi” (or in due course a full) military alliance can be perceived as a service to US interests.

Though I have spent much of almost six decades living in, studying, and thinking about Japan, and though I find the warmth of the bilateral relationship of today, as replicated across such wide swathes of the societies of both countries, very heartening, it is hard to feel positive about the current governmental/bureaucratic push to convert the relationship between the two countries into a “quasi” (or in due course a full) military alliance that seems now underway.

Anything pushed so hard by the bureaucrats and state figures of both sides, deserves to be given second, and third thoughts, especially when, as seems to me to be the case today, it is part of the design to serve American agendas and to reinforce failing US hegemony.

In my reading of the discussion of the relationship to date, I have seen no reference to the constitution of Japan, in particular its Article 9, worth remembering because it so commonly  not remembered:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Historians do not dispute that the history of the years since the constitution was adopted in 1946 has been the history of ceaseless effort to evade or negate its effect, promoted in Washington and in Tokyo. I have no recollection of any Australian government or public figure ever going on record as affirming the principle of Article 9, even less of any call for it to be universalized. When I spoke to a Senate hearing on the Australia-Japan relationship in 1990 on the desirability of strong Australian support for Article 9 there was zero response. Instead, the process of its evisceration since then has been constant.

Is not the security relationship the two governments now promote, elevating the “special security” relationship of the past decade into a “quasi” military alliance (to be seen as a step on the path towards full military alliance) not basically a step in the ongoing process of emptying out the Japanese constitution, overcoming the current impediment (as Japanese and American planners have long seen it) of the pacifist Article 9 and turning Japan into an “ordinary” country, i.e. a comprehensive military and general superpower? For decades Washington has been urging this process of “normalization” upon Japan. Is that Australia’s policy too? Is it wise? Or necessary?

Washington of course – under Trump or Biden alike – wants to facilitate the mobilization of Japan’s “Self Defense Forces” and Australian soldiers in future “Coalitions of the Willing” to fight future wars. A major step under the Abe government in 2015 was the adoption of a package of security bills (under which Japan’s “Self Defense Forces” function today) in the teeth of mass popular opposition. Overwhelmingly, Japan’s constitutional scholars declared this legislation unconstitutional.

Three of the most eminent were summoned, at government invitation, to testify to the Diet about them, and to the embarrassment of the government, all three declared them unconstitutional. Pressed into law, they are the bills that define how Japan’s forces might behave in future conflict situations. The emerging “quasi-alliance” (as it has been reported in Japan) may be seen as part of the design to commit Australia to support Japan’s government in opposition to its best legal advice and its civil society. I certainly detect no groundswell of support for such a move in Australia.

I wonder too whether Prime Minister Morrison and his government really believe they share values with Prime Minister Suga and his government. Of course, on all sides, there are affirmations of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, but most members of the Suga (and Abe) governments of 2012-2020 belong to rightist, cult type historical revisionist organizations committed to restoring the emperor’s role to its pre-war centrality and to denying war responsibility both generally and in respect of particular groups of victims such as the “Comfort Women.” Japan’s “denialists” (of Comfort Women, Nanjing) are held to much more lenient standards than European denialists (of the holocaust). Probably few if any Australians support such denialism. Not many Japanese, for that matter, virtually none in my experience, share them either. But at elite levels, where a value system that I describe as neo-Shinto prevails, they are strongly held.

Thirteen years ago both the US House and the Canadian and European parliaments adopted resolutions calling on Japan to face its responsibility to the Comfort Women. Australia so far has not made such a call but my guess is that most Australians would support the principle.

It is just 75 years since Japan’s attempts to establish its imperial domination over the Asia-Pacific collapsed. Who now remembers that the Australian government’s 1945-1946 list of Japanese for trial as major war criminals included, in No 7 slot as I recall, Emperor Hirohito (emperor 1926-1989). With reluctance and under considerable United States and Great Britain pressure, it deleted him from the list. Neither he nor his successors, his son and grandson (present emperor), has ever accepted responsibility for the war and its associated crimes.

Australia was reluctant to see the emperor system retained but it had to face the fact that retention was the No 1 US principle laid down in January 1951 by John Foster Dulles. Australia could only be persuaded with reluctance to accept the Articles 1 to 8 of the constitution (emperor retention) when they were coupled with the peace clause of Article 9.

Step-by-step over the subsequent seven and a half decades, restrictions have been set aside and Japan’s formidable military might accumulate. Australia now appears to be committing itself to further that process by entering a military alliance (albeit for the time being in preliminary form) with it.

He is no longer with us but I am inclined to think that, were he to return, my former ANU colleague Des Ball would want to make again the point he made fourteen years ago (and to which I drew attention last week):

“The [Japan-Australia] security relationship was spawned in secrecy. It was nurtured and shaped by particular agencies, such as the intelligence organizations and the Navies, and reflects their particular bureaucratic interests and perspectives … It has expanded though accumulation of essentially ad hoc responses to different global and regional developments. It has never been subject to comprehensive or systematic bureaucratic audit or informed public discussion.”

Quote of the Week, supplied to John Menadue

“Japan is a country that says little and does a lot. Australia is a country that says a lot and does little. These two countries really are well suited to each other”.

  • TV host in Guangdong China, commenting on Scott Morrison’s visit to Tokyo.

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Gavan McCormack is emeritus professor of Australian National University, editor of the Asia-Pacific journal Japan Focus and author of many works on modern Japan and East Asia, which are commonly translated and published also in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.

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