Friendship, states, peoples and Australia
The government of Japan struggles to reconcile servile incorporation in today’s US hegemonic project with Japan’s own nationalism, but the circle is not easily to be squared. Nationalism is distorted, denied and channeled into a ‘correct history’ movement, beautiful Japan campaigns, and antagonism to China and Korea. The wave of xenophobic abuse of China and Korea, speculation about a possible war, and ‘hate speech’ bullying of Zainichi resident Koreans, helps consolidate Abe’s support base and justify frontier militarisation. It constitutes the reverse side of his stealth revision of the constitution and promotion of military-first, US-serving priorities. Furthermore, basic insecurity is exacerbated by neoliberal policies that for more than a decade now have functioned to replace regular jobs with part-time, temporary or other non-regular ones (now accounting for 19 million people, or 38 per cent of the total workforce).
It is not as though the Abe agenda has widespread national support. He took office after the lower-house election in December 2012 delivered his party a substantial majority on the basis of 27.6 per cent of the vote in the national ‘bloc’ component (hardly different from 2009, when it took 26.7 per cent and suffered a humiliating defeat), and 16.62 million votes in the small electorate seats, more than two million fewer than the 18.81 million it took on the occasion of its 2009 defeat. Since then support levels have wavered, kept high through his first year of government by the rhetoric of Abenomics but suddenly dropping below 50 per cent (from 54 to 47 per cent] in July 2014 as the ‘collective self-defence’ doctrine was adopted.
There is now a thick fabric of cooperation and exchange between Australia and Japan. In both countries, the image of the other is generally positive, and they are urged to the embrace by their key security partner and ally, the United States. However, official Australia has a distinctive agenda not necessarily widely shared or understood in the community. It has long favoured Japanese constitutional revision and showed no sign in 2014 of concern at the way the Abe government was going about accomplishing it. It also favours an expanded Japanese regional military role and closer integration of Australian, Japanese and American forces. Official Australia is not known to have any reservations about the way the government of Japan has gone about constructing a new facility on Okinawa for the US Marine Corps or to have any apparent qualms about moves to switch the Japanese nuclear power grid (frozen in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster) back on and promote the export of nuclear-power-generation systems as a core sector of the Japanese economy. Australian silence on issues such as Yasukuni and the ‘comfort women’ is also appreciated in Tokyo, and naturally taken to signify agreement, or ‘shared’ values.
In short, Australia has yet to disentangle affection and respect for the Japanese people from identification with the values and policies of the Abe government. For the moment, few seem conscious of the distinction and so support for the Abe government and its agenda is scarcely challenged. However, those who believe they share values with the Abe government should look carefully at contemporary Japan’s complex crisis of identity, history and role; at the radical but contradictory agenda pursued by Prime Minister Abe; and not least at the burgeoning confrontation in Oura Bay in Okinawa, where the juggernaut of the state, with its monopoly of force and readiness to sacrifice nature to military ends threatens the local, non-violent, democratic and fundamentally ‘conservative’ citizenry.