A month and a half ago, we briefly mentioned the Japanese light aircraft carrier Izumo in connection with the acceleration of political processes on the Asia-Pacific region.
Then, the reason for reiterating this platitudinous epigram was the information (circulated by Reuters, which cited certain sources at the headquarters of the Japanese Navy) concerning the forthcoming three-month deployment of the largest naval ship of the Japanese Navy on the route across the South China Sea – Malacca Strait – Indian Ocean.
As part of the deployment, which was scheduled to begin in “May this year”, Izumo was to visit a number of countries and take part in joint exercises with US Navy and Indian Navy ships. However, various accompanying circumstances leave us with no choice but draw a conclusion on the anti-Chinese nature of this naval demonstration by Japan, unprecedented in scale since the Second World War.
However, it seems that the political clock on the Asia-Pacific region is moving rather quickly. For, on May 1, Izumo, which is an anti-submarine defense ship, had already departed from Yokosuka Port, and instead of heading south, it sailed towards the east of the Japanese islands, with the military assignment from Defense Minister Tomomi Inada to ensure the protection of the American squadron involved in the events on the Korean peninsula.
The deployment of Izumo into the open sea for fulfilling the combat mission set by the order of the Defense Minister of the country was the first practical use of the “new interpretation” of the anti-war Article 9 of the Constitution in effect so far. It is part of a package of legislative acts adopted in autumn 2015 by the Parliament upon the recommendation of the Government of S. Abe.
To a certain extent, these acts lower the level of “disproportion” in the mutual obligations of the participants of the US-Japan military-political alliance. Until recently, within the framework of this bilateral union, the Japanese armed forces had virtually no right to defend their attacked ally.
Against this backdrop, we should once again draw our attention to the events of May 1, 2017, when the largest ship of the Japanese Navy (for the first time in the entire post-war history) was deployed on a joint combat mission with an American naval group. And this was not for the purpose of simply participating in joint military exercises, which has long been a routine within the framework of the US military cooperation with Japan.
The above-mentioned three-month campaign by the same Izumo, which was previously reported by Reuters, will correspond to the format of the exercises. Apparently, it will now take place (if at all) after the execution of a seemingly emergency combat mission. Thus, the rapid development of the situation on the Korean peninsula has forced adjustments to be made to the plans of the Ministry of Defense of Japan, even those compiled just two months ago.
As cynical as it sounds, the Japanese leadership probably decided to use another of the dangerous aggravations of the situation on the Korean Peninsula to take a radical step in the overall process of transforming Japan’s postwar policy in the sphere of national defense. However, from the moral and everyday point of view, cynicism in international politics is the order of the day.
Thus, the United States is solving a key strategic task in Northeast Asia (connected with the advance deployment near China) as a result of a simple tripartite: the constant holding of “planned” large-scale US-South Korean military exercises – the resulting inevitable (and expected) reaction of the DPRK – the strengthening of American Positions in South Korea.
The latest example of the final move of the marked combination was the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea in response to the continuation of the North Korean nuclear missile program (NMP). In turn, another act of strengthening US positions in the Republic of Korea provoked a sharply negative reaction from China.
By the way, the fact that the last president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, fell victim to the struggle between the two main external players on the Korean peninsula, cannot be ruled out. Each of the players had their own reasons for carrying out (which has already become the norm) an operation codenamed “Incriminations in Corruption.”
Why would Japan refrain from gaining political benefits and interests from the confusion on the Korean Peninsula?
First, Izumo’s joining to the US warships, which serve certain agendas in connection with the general exacerbation of the situation in Northeast Asia, is an important step for Japan in the process of reformatting the whole complex of relations with the US that began after the accession of Donald Trump to the post of the new US president.
The relations find themselves under the heavy influence of the “post-trans-Pacific partnership” syndrome that arose after Donald Trump refused to take part in a project that was to become the basis for forging a new format of an alliance with Japan as a whole, and not just based on its economic aspects.
In the commenced bargaining on the formation of a new bilateral union, a positive move by one of its participants presupposes reciprocal concessions by the ally. And not necessarily within the same aspect of the alliance.
This was exactly the case in late 2014-early 2015, when, at the peak of the Ukrainian crisis, Japan had to proceed and freeze its relations with Russia. Initiated in some popular American media outlets, the “informational and analytical” false-bulletin stuffing about the US’s non-obligatory engagement into the hypothetical Sino-Japanese conflict over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands only ended after Japan had actively involved itself in anti-Russian sanctions.
The current deployment of the Izumo, symbolizing Japan’s commitment to strengthening its military alliance with the United States, will undoubtedly become a significant trump card in the negotiations on the new format for economic cooperation. Which, apparently, are not going as smoothly as expected.
As noted above, the deployment carries with it an important internal political message that seeks to demonstrate to all the political factions in Japan the firm commitment of the country’s leadership to the revision of Article 9 of the current Constitution. Despite the additional acts of 2015, this Article continues to limit the scope and nature of Japanese participation in (hypothetical) military actions of a key ally.
Meanwhile, May 3 of this year marked exactly 70 years since the year the Basic Law of Japan entered into force. Public opinion polls by the Kyodo News agency show a 50-50 split between the supporters (49%) and opponents (47%) of the idea of making radical amendments to Article 9 or eliminating it altogether.
Compared to last year, supporters of the changes gained several points, while the opponents lost the same points. This is due to the general exacerbation of the situation in Northeast Asia, and, in particular, the growing perception of China as the main source of external threats.
In general, the deployment of Japan’s largest naval ship on the first post-war mission confirms the (objective) reality of the process of drawing modern Japan into a narrow group of leaders of the new ‘Great World Game’.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”