A Philippine foreign minister has stated that the Philippines would strongly “support a rearmed Japan as a counterweight to what it sees as a Chinese provocation.” In an interview with the Financial Times, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario that if Japan should chose to remove the inhibiting clause in its constitution restraining it from remilitarizing, they would be fully supported by the Philippine government. Tensions have been mounting in the region, as smaller countries such as the Philippines band together to confront what has been perceived as aggressive Chinese expansionary tactics.
Chinese Territorial Disputes
Many nations in South and East Asia have been alarmed at what has been perceived as aggressive bullying by China. The most powerful Asian country both militarily and economically, China is involved in several territorial disputes with its neighbors, and lays claim to areas in more than a dozen different countries, including India, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bhutan, Thailand, Nepal, and Taiwan. China claims most of the South China Sea, including areas in close proximity to neighboring coastlines. China has received international criticism for allegedly disregarding international law, as well as violating the sovereignty of several countries by its intrusions into their territory.
The state-owned newspaper, the China Daily, published an editorial entitled “Manila’s Miscalculation,” criticizing Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. According to the editorial, the Philippines have resorted to opportunism to balance bigger powers. The paper also included what many have perceived as a threat: “If [the Philippines] goes too far, it will have to shoulder the consequences.”
The Philippines and Japan
It is very surprising that the Philippines, a country that suffered countless atrocities at the hands of the Japanese during World War II, would support rearmament of Japan. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines saw an estimated death toll of one million Filipinos. In 1944, Japanese soldiers sacked the Philippine capital of Manila in one of the most horrific events of World War II in the Pacific. About 100,000 people were killed, a tenth of the capital’s city’s population. Manila was the second most destroyed Allied capital city, seeing a level of destruction second only to Warsaw, Poland.
The fact that the Philippines supports a revision of the currently pacifist Japanese Constitution shows that its fear of China is now more powerful than any hurtful wartime memories that an armed Japan may conjure up. China’s aggressive tactics and disregard for international law has alarmed the Asian community, causing smaller nations to band together against the Chinese threat.
Is War a Possibility?
It should be noted that despite the rich natural resources of the disputed islands, China has little to gain from all-out war with its neighbors. Japan is not only one of China’s largest trading partners, it is also an ally of the biggest Chinese trading partner of all: the United States. Going to war would cripple China economically; it would both increase spending and decrease profits.
That does not mean that war is not a possibility. Many Chinese see the current dispute as an opportunity for China to demonstrate its growing power. Some zealous Chinese government officials and journalists have suggested that the time for diplomacy has passed, and that the only solution to the current territorial disputes is war. Back in in April 2012, the Global Times, one of China’s most widely read newspapers, warned of a potential “small-scale war” between the Philippines and China over the territorial row, urging China to prepare for a naval war with the smaller country.
The Philippine government, unfazed by the article, responded with a firm assertion of their own claim to the islands. The Philippines, with its small military, relies on military allies like the U.S. to protect its interests. Despite Chinese insistence that the Philippines is pushing China too far, the Philippines has insisted that it is determined to resolve the issue peacefully.
Should the Japanese Dragon be Freed?
Many have expressed concern that rearming Japan may lead to a greater threat than China. Some Filipinos have openly protested against their government’s official stance, saying that support of a rearmed Japan recklessly puts future generations in jeopardy. While massive China may be the immediate, looming threat on the Philippine horizon, not all Filipinos are quick to forget that it was Japan, and not China, who enslaved, raped, and pillaged them a mere two to three generations ago. With the international support he has garnered, current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is very likely to pursue his agenda of restoring the country to its former military power.
The rearmament of Japan is a double-edged sword. While it may hold the key to a new balance of power in Asia, history beckons us be wary of releasing a dragon. Whether or a new rearmed Japan will be the benevolent dragon its allies hope it will be, or a reincarnation of the Axis power responsible for millions of atrocities in the past, remains to be seen.