Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Right of Collective Self-Defense and the Greater Danger Facing Japan
KIMURA Masato / Journalist

August 9, 2014
On July 1, the Japanese cabinet acknowledged the country's right to exercise the right of collective self-defense within a limited scope. It would be fair to say that the issue was met with indifference in the United Kingdom. The results of an advanced search on Twitter for the keywords "Japan" and "constitution" revealed there had been two tweets by individuals under their real names, of which one was a journalist. The rest showed a total of three tweets by two lobbying groups and two tweets by someone using a pseudonym.

A further search based on the keywords "Japan" and "right of collective self-defense" yielded a single tweet by a risk management company specializing in conflict areas, which quoted from a statement issued by the new British defense secretary Michael Fallon welcoming the Japanese government's decision to reinterpret its constitution regarding collective self-defense. British sentiment towards Japan - which had been affected by perceived Japanese atrocities against British POWs during World War II - improved dramatically as a result of the reconciliation efforts that were launched upon the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. One could see this change reflected in the defense secretary’s statement.

Ordinary British citizens are unable to offer any accurate response to questions concerning the "right of collective self-defense" – mere technical jargon in the area of national security. The only country in the world without the right of collective self-defense is Costa Rica, which has abolished a standing army, according to the British newspaper The Financial Times. By continuously renouncing this right, Japan had become something of an anomaly.

Japan is allied to the United States, the world's most powerful military nation, and remains protected by its "nuclear umbrella." How was Japan able to forge a military alliance with the United States, dispatch its Self Defense Forces to Iraq, engage in supply missions in the Indian Ocean, or deal with pirates off the coast of Somalia, without exercising its right of collective self-defense? It is difficult to explain unless you are an expert on diplomacy and national security with an intricate understanding of Japan.

The British media can be roughly divided into national and international media. What matters to Japan is how the issue was reported by influential international media, such as The Economist magazine or The Financial Times.

On July 2, the online edition of The Financial Times published an article by David Pilling - Asia editor and a tough critic of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, titled: "Pacifist Japan is inching towards being 'normal'." And in another article carried by its online edition on July 13, Peter Tasker, a commentator well-versed in Japan, cited China's growing military prowess and declared flatly that "Japan's constitution is not fit for the 21st century."

In its July 19 edition, The Economist offered a detailed report describing how Japan has set rigorous limits to the exercise of its right of collective self-defense. The article also warned the Abe administration against rushing to resolve the abduction issue with North Korea in its attempt to recover its plummeting popularity in the polls. It was a balanced piece of reporting. I have been working out of London for the past seven years, and have seldom encountered a fellow Japanese in my reporting activities nor heard them speak out. Therein lies the greatest reason why Japan is misunderstood in the world. And taking their cue from the Japanese media, whose reporting still retains the shades of vehement ideological rifts in the past, the foreign media add a further bias to their reporting.

To prevent misunderstanding and prejudice from becoming amplified, it is crucial for the Japanese government to make a sustained effort for direct communication on delicate matters concerning its foreign and national security policies. However, more often than not, cases of direct communication to the foreign media in the past began with prodding from politicians angered by the way a certain issue was being reported overseas and ended with the local Japanese embassy expressing its "strong protest." There is nothing to be gained by criticizing the news media. It only gives way to a vicious spiral of mutual distrust.

Since taking office at the Japanese embassy in the U.K., Ambassador Hayashi Keiichi and minister in charge of political affairs Shikata Noriyuki have mobilized the entire team in a game of diplomatic "baseball" aimed at scoring consistently by "hitting the ball to the right field" and returning their players to home base. Minister Shikata was almost always to be seen at meetings I covered, voicing his view. Before you knew it, the bases were full and the team was scoring. And the results are manifest in the way Japan is being reported now by The Economist or The Financial Times.

The true risk facing Japan does not concern its right of collective self-defense. It lies instead in the swell of its ethno-centric hubris that has its origins in the homogeneity of the Japanese nation and its organizations. There are conspicuous moves in Japan, South Korea and China that use social media to spread mutual animosity, based on a view of the other country as seen through a prism distorted by a sense of either superiority or inferiority. Political confrontation gives fuel to narrow-minded nationalism. And once it catches fire, it is no easy task to extinguish the flames. In Japan, a section of the media has also been actively fanning nationalistic sentiments. We should not leave them unattended any longer.

Masato Kimura is a journalist based in London.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

木村 正人  / ジャーナリスト

2014年 8月 9日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Right of Collective Self-Defense and the Greater Danger Facing Japan